Places to visit that are just, well, superior

By DEBRA KARPLUS

Whether you are in Minnesota, Wisconsin or Michigan, traveling along the coast of Lake Superior, you will be enamored at the spectacular scenery in some of the most unexplored but glorious parts of the United States.

Historically, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has been misunderstood, perhaps because of its rugged terrain and sometimes harsh winters. Travel the UP and you will find waterfalls, steep cliffs with colorful panoramic views and lighthouses, many of which are now renovated and used as bed and breakfast inns. The Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, which allow ship passage between Lakes Huron and Superior, are a popular tourist attraction. Since 1957, the Mackinac Bridge has connected Michigan's peninsulas.

On Lake Superior's southern shore lies Marquette, Mich., one of the larger UP cities (population approximately 20,000). Originally a major shipping center, it is the home of Northern Michigan University.

It is on U.S. 41, a comfortable two- to four-lane well-traveled road that goes straight north from Illinois, through Wisconsin and up to Michigan's most northern locations.

It is a lovely setting surrounded by Lake Superior as well as the Huron Mountains and lush forests primed for year-round sports and recreation, including boating and water sports, hiking and winter skiing.

Besides the lovely campus area with many outdoor and indoor music, art and theater events to enjoy and a wide variety of unique dining spots, the town has quaint shops, as well as many medical services and an active political climate.

Follow County Road 550 along the lake for about 25 miles and you will find yourself in Big Bay, Mich. The 1959 movie classic "Anatomy of a Murder" was filmed on location there, including at the Thunder Bay Inn; this really put Big Bay on the map!

If you enjoy camping, fishing, hiking or bicycling, you will find yourself much at home in Big Bay. This tiny town has several shops with a local flavor as well as some motels and bed and breakfast establishments and well-equipped cottages to rent for short or longer visits.

Bay Cliff Health Camp, with its stellar reputation, has been the pride and joy of the town of Big Bay, Powell Township, Marquette County and the entire Lake Superior and UP area since 1934.

This seven-week residential camp, set amid beautiful surroundings, has provided a broad and empowering outdoor experience each summer to about 150 children with physical disabilities, ages 3 to 17.

A not-for-profit organization, the camp is funded mainly through the support of numerous donors. Several of the campers have helped with fundraising efforts, including one who recently raised nearly $25,000 by accepting pledges for each of the 100 miles he trekked to camp in his motorized wheelchair; this was later matched by an anonymous donor.

Though Bay Cliff employs nearly 130 people, volunteers also give their time in many capacities, such as the health cottage, the dental clinic and the camp library.

The camp has a long, rich history and attracts many new and returning campers each summer. Campers receive therapy services as needed and also enjoy arts and crafts, nature activities, recreation, swimming and boating, bicycling, camp-outs and cookouts, horseback riding, singalongs, movies, games, parties and celebrations, highlighted by the Fourth of July parade and festivities. There also is a wide variety of special evening and weekend activities, many of which are hosted by local groups.

The camp kitchen staff does an extraordinary job creating delicious home-cooked meals from scratch. Additionally, there is a bakery on-site where luscious desserts are prepared and served daily to campers and staff. Brownies, cookies and cobblers are all a welcomed treat.

The camp has a unique program for teens, with special privileges and activities such as kayaking on Lake Superior, teen prom and opportunities to learn and earn through jobs at camp, such as mentoring younger campers, delivering mail, helping in the camp gardens and giving guided tours to Bay Cliff's many visitors.

Most of these teens have grown up at Bay Cliff, spending many summers at camp and developing long-lasting friendships.

The younger campers look up to the teens with admiration and respect and the hopes that they will someday be old enough to be in Bay Cliff's teen program.

The beauty of the Lake Superior region attracts camp employees from all areas of the United States. Bay Cliff employees come from all over the country and sometimes from other parts of the world, too.

With this much staff, there is an excellent staff-to-camper ratio, creating a very safe camp environment. Some of the employees who already live in the UP are originally natives of other places but were enamored by what the Lake Superior region has to offer and relocated to the UP.

Most of the staff view employment at Bay Cliff as an idyllic working vacation, complete with a fabulous change of scenery and a relaxing change of pace.

In addition to the management staff, the camp employs occupational, physical, speech and music therapists; medical, nursing and dental staff; hearing and vision specialists; activity and unit leaders; camp counselors; and kitchen and dining room helpers. Many staff members return each summer to work at Bay Cliff.

If you find yourself near Marquette, Mich., you should consider contacting the camp director and scheduling a tour. The Bay Cliff Health Camp website is very informative; check it out at http://www.baycliff.org.

Debra Karplus is a registered occupational therapist from Champaign. Check out her blog at debrakarplus.blogspot.com.

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