When Tom Dolaskie returned to his hometown of Munising in 2008, fresh off four years of service in the U.S. Air Force, it was apparent that the city needed an infusion of activity that served and entertained visitors coming to witness the natural beauty of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
“There wasn’t really anything that could add to why people were already coming here,” Dolaskie said recently. “I really believe in experiential tourism, and when you think of that ecosystem, you want to have options for people that open their eyes and keep them coming back or talking to others about what a great time they had.”
Dolaskie and a business partner started with creating a boutique hotel, later adding a fine dining restaurant and then several restaurants in addition to Gallery Coffee Co., a daytime coffee-roasting and custom drink shop that doubles as an entertainment venue with a full bar by night.
The coffee company’s 8,000-square-foot space, which had been vacant for roughly 30 years, turned into a community hub with a gallery of rotating artists displaying their work. After building out a stage and providing an intimate, relaxed vibe, the space began hosting comedy nights on Thursday and touring bands on Friday and Saturday nights throughout the summer. The plan is to continue weekend entertainment all year.
Scott Kusmirek, a former drummer for the Gin Blossoms and Freddy Jones Band, has been on a roll booking acts of all genres, Dolaskie said. He’s brought blues, southern rock, country, rock and reggae bands to Munising. Ben Daniels and the Verve Pipe’s Brian Vander Ark were so impressed they sat down with crowd members during breaks and after their respective shows just to enjoy the setting and the people.
“We’ve got ‘the morning show’ for coffee and then ‘the night out,’ where people can have fun and find some great artists,” Dolaskie said. “It’s a pretty mellow environment and there’s a great transition from day to night. I owe that to our team. Without great people who are passionate about what they do, it doesn’t work. It all runs and hums because of what the team does.”
Cori-Ann Cearley, the president of the Munising Visitors Bureau, has heard the communal response to shows at the Gallery Coffee Co., and she notes that others in the area are working to expand Munising’s entertainment resources
Moh’s Pub, By George Brewing and East Channel Brewing have all launched live music nights by booking talented local and regional artists. People have discovered the talent of U.P. musicians.
“Live music and nightlife have really been the missing element in some respects,” Cearley said. “Our guests and our locals have all these great options to have fun and be outside during the day, but now there’s something that continues into the night.
“It’s nice to have that activity.”
Of course, in Munising, the prime attraction is and will remain the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, with cliffs that climb between 50 and 200 feet and flash stunning shades of red, orange, green and blue, along nearly 30 miles of Lake Superior coastline.
Visitors continue to discover the dramatic views of the sandstone cliffs on outdoor adventures. With a handful of summer weekends remaining and a breathtaking fall color season on tap, Cearley recommended taking a different perspective on the property by experiencing the sights from the water.
“If you want the best experience and the most incredible views of the cliffs, you’ve got to get out on the water to see them,” said Cearley. “Think about it. When you’re on a trail – and I absolutely think you should get out and hike – you’re only seeing it from the top down, or from a certain vantage point that has limitations.
“If you’re on the water, you’re looking at the whole thing and getting all of that beauty.”
It’s a pick your pleasure and pace with water activities, Cearley said, as experiences vary from the silent serenity of a kayak, to cruising on large tour boats and exhilarating rides on a former U.S. Navy Seal vessel.
“Everyone is looking for their own way to travel and have their personal experience,” Cearley said. “It’s awesome that we have the ability to give people what they are after.”
Here are 4 water adventures to consider during your visit to Pictured Rocks and Munising:
Pictured Rocks Cruises: As the official concessionaire of the National Park Service, Pictured Rocks Cruises is the only vendor that can show off all that the lakeshore has to offer. There are three cruise options on tour boats that range from 65 to 78 feet long and accommodate between 129 and 250 passengers. Guests get to view the brilliance of the cliffs, sea caves and beaches on 2 ½-to 3-hour long voyages that travel between 32 and 40 miles along Lake Superior’s coast.
Shipwreck Tours, featuring Grand Island and Munising Bay: Glass-bottom boats give passengers a one-of-a-kind look at two shipwrecks – the Bermuda and the Herman H. Hettler – that are peacefully preserved by Lake Superior’s waters. Munising and the Alger Underwater Preserve are the only place in the U.S. where wrecks are witnessed from a glass-bottom boat. The wrecks are visible through the clear water and provide an up-close look at history that is only exceeded by diving on the ships. The excursions also allow views of the cliffs, Grand Island and its caves, and the East Channel Lighthouse.
Riptide Ride: This thrill ride, which takes place on a decommissioned Navy Seal jetboat, is unlike any other in Munising, making it an outdoor adventure all on its own. Passengers will travel around Grand Island, stopping for scenic views of its cliffs and falls. Between the sights is when the action happens as the ride rips through the water at high-speeds, blasts into sharp turns and even pulls 360-degree spins to the delight of howling riders.
Kayak Tours: There are multiple Pictured Rocks kayak tours available in Munising, and they all feature the stillness and beauty that will be a highlight of your trip. Guides lead groups along the shoreline cliffs and place visitors as close to the base and caves as you can get. There is a degree of risk as the weather can turn quickly and the rocks, which make the landscape so impressive, offer no relief or safety valve.