Exploring the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge with Mariah Summers

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    Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:00]  Hello Everyone. And welcome to the show today. We are being joined by Mariah Summers and she is the events department lead as well as works with the outdoor activities department for the QA mountain lodge and absolutely beautiful lodge. If you haven’t seen it, you probably should go see it, but let’s talk to Mariah, Mariah.

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:00:49] I’m good. Thank you.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:51] Excellent. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about where you’re from and where you grew up.

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:00:54] Sure. I grew up in Calumet, Michigan, which is just down the road from where the Q and a mountain lodge is right now in Copper Harbor. it’s about 30 miles or so.  so I grew up in Cali, man. I graduated from Calumet high school. my husband joined the army, so we. Moved around for about 10 years.

     and it was always the goal to come back home. So last year, actually last May, 2019 is when, we were actually able to do that and we got the opportunity to come back home. So now we live in Hancock, Michigan, which is a little farther away. It’s about 45 miles from Copper Harbor.  and that’s where we are now.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:33] excellent. And what made you decide to work at the, the, the travel and tourism industry?

     Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:01:39] well, I’ve been in the service and hospitality industry. since I was about 14, I was a dishwasher at a family friend’s restaurant.  and so I’ve held every position pretty much in the service in hospitality industry, from dishwasher on up to general manager.  and now I’m the events department lead here at the, a mountain lodge.

    and I’d done some events planning and coordinating just through my general, manager roles.  and when we were planning on moving back home, of course, I started looking for jobs, and the events, Assistant coordinator job here was open when we were looking. And I had actually worked in the Q and a mountain lodge as a housekeeper back in 2006. and co I mean, I grew up just outside of Copper Harbor. So, I grew up coming here and visiting Copper Harbor my whole life. And it was, it’s always held a big part of my heart. So,  to see that, you know, maybe I had the opportunity to work here. Again was amazing. So I applied and I got the job and it’s a thread I hadn’t followed yet in the, you know, service and the hospitality industry as you know, the events department.

    So, you know, I thought it’d be interesting. And, the events department lead ended up taking a different job in the middle of the season last year. And I moved into that position and that’s where I am now.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:03:00] excellent. And why don’t you, if somebody is listening to this podcast episode and they’ve not heard of the Keweenaw mountain lodge, why don’t you kind of share with us what it is a little bit about, its its history.

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:03:13] sure. the key one, a mountain lodge has a rich history. it was built in 1934. it was actually a WPA project. after the mines closed in the area, Q and a County was. Says at about 80% unemployment, 80% of the population was unemployed. and OCA Potter was the guy that came up with the idea of the Q and a mountain lodge, which was, in his area.

    And a golf course. And at the time everybody called it Potter’s folly because, nobody thought it was going to work. They said, why, you know, why would you build this resort? And of course at a time when 80% of the population is unemployed, but, he went through with it and, the land was actually, I don’t know what they call it granted or donated to the Q and a mountain lodge.

    By the County with some,  you know, it had to be open to the public all the time. You know, there were some things like that. and it’s always been open to the public. it is now, privately owned for the first time its existence. It was always owned by Q and a County. and last September, 2018 was bought by a private owner for the first time ever.

    And, When they were building the golf course, it’s kind of cool, actually, all of the. Timber that they harvested from the golf course was actually used to build all of the cabins and the lodge itself,  and all of, except for cabin six and 22, which have burned down over the years and had to be rebuilt, but everything else is original to 1934.

    so there’s these beautiful there’s twenty-five cabin. Some are duplex style, so they’re a, and B some are standalone.  and they’re just these beautiful rustic cabins. Original to 1934 when they were first built. And,  I forget the amount of people. They ended up employing to build it. I want to say it was around 150, 200 somewhere in there.

    and throughout the whole process, they only used one team of horses and wagon. Everything else was just done by manpower.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:05:12] Sweet Moses. That must have been a huge building

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:05:14] nine hole golf course.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:05:15] Go ahead.

     Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:05:16] and the golf course was originally meant to be 18 holes. however, after they cleared and developed the first nine holes and saw what it took to maintain that they never ended up building, the second set of 18 holes.

    so now it’s a set of trails at the back of our property and it’s kind of cool. When you go back there there’s signs on the trees. That tell you what green you would have been standing on. Had they built the second set of nine holes?

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:05:44] Nice nice with regards.

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:05:46] yeah, that’s pretty much the history. Yeah.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:05:49] Okay. Great. So with regards to, the lodge from, from what you’re describing there, the, the, the actual, Mount lodge itself is it’s, it’s a destination spot, but there’s just all kinds of activities that are available for people that are staying there.

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:06:05] Yeah, that’s right. And that’s actually, one of the goals of the new owner and all of us working here now is to really develop that even further. so we want guests to be able to come here and they can just spend a whole day right on the watch property, you know, and be entertained and have things to do.

    So, there’s the golf course of, of course we have a disc golf course as well. we added fling golf this last season, which is a relatively new sport and it’s kind of a cross between lacrosse and traditional golf. And it’s really fun. And you can play right alongside traditional golfers and you kind of have a stick with a little basket on the end and.

    You do exactly what it sounds like you, you take a little running start and you just fling it down the fairway as far as you can. so that’s fun and we do guided hikes. We have the trails, where we’re located. We’re actually adjacent to, Three different trailheads. And then from there you can gain access to any trail and Copper Harbor, which there’s 37 miles of trails right now for mountain biking and hiking.

     we do group mountain bike rides next season. We’re going to start renting mountain bikes out from here. this winter we’re grooming cross country ski trails. We’re going to do, snowshoe rentals and we have some snowshoe trails to go along with that. So, all of these things we’re developing with the hope that.

    That’s exactly it. The guests can just come here and it’s just full of activity for them to participate in.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:07:28] Oh, that’s really cool. so talk to us a little bit about, the, you know, when, when people come and visit how many. People do you typically see throughout the year? how long did they stay? What are some of the activities in the area that, you know, that people can participate in?

     Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:07:45] there’s a lot of history in the key one. so a lot of people come for the history. so they tour the minds, you know, like I said, we were a mining town, actually, Kelly Mitt was almost at one point going to be the capital of Michigan because of the mining. Boom. Copper is what we mine. so there’s so many mines left after they closed and people have, Turn them into a tourist spots where you can visit the mine.

    There’s a couple of, you can actually go underground and into the old mine shafts and things like that. So, that’s a big area attraction, and we’re right on the shores of Lake superior. So that’s another huge thing. I mean, Well, there’s beaches everywhere. I mean, growing up in Kalamazoo, I was 10 miles, 10 minutes in any direction from, you know, a beautiful sand beach.

    So,  that’s another huge attraction. and I forgot where I was going with this.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:08:37] that’s okay. You can take a second. I can just edit it out. We were talking about, 

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:08:41] the question again?

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:08:42] No, no, no. That’s okay. so what we were talking about is, is, like other activities in the area for people to do when they come up there and stay at the lodge.

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:08:52] right. So the mines, like I mentioned, there’s 37 miles just in Copper Harbor of hiking and mountain biking trails. Copper Harbor is known for its mountain biking. It’s actually a, I believe it’s silver level, nationally recognized trails, through the international mountain biking association.

    so that’s huge in the area. and sightseeing, you know, people come to just sightseeing. It’s just, it’s a beautiful, unique, wild area. If you’re coming to get away from. You know, your computer people, you know, a busy town, this is where you come. We are, at the very, very tip of Northern Michigan. there’s no cell service here, very little cell service here, depending on what provider you have.

    and you’re just, you’re here to get away from it all. And that’s what, that’s what people do. That’s why they come here.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:09:45] nice. And I can imagine that you probably have some people that have been coming to the lodge year after year, probably decade after decade.

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:09:53] we do. We actually have, a handful of couples or families that come and spend, a few weeks to a month at a time with us and have been coming for, like you said, years and decades.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:10:06] No. Now with regards to, you know, the, the lodge, what are, if somebody was coming there, you know, let’s say in there, you know, they’re like, you know, I’m, I really want to get away from it all. And they decided to come up there. What would be like maybe perhaps, you know, key like three, you know, three things that you would tell them that, you know, to really maximize your experience here.

    I highly recommend that you. You know, do these three things or think about these three things when they come the area, what would you, what would you recommend to people coming up there for the first time?

     Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:10:37] Brockway mountain is definitely a huge attraction. Brockway mountain drive was actually another WPA project that was built at the same time as the lodge. and it kind of snakes up the side of the mountain Brockway mountain, which is, a mile. Into town from us. And then it’s just a little ways through town, but, you can actually see Brockway mountain from the tee box of hole one.

    It’s kind of the iconic view here at the Q and a mountain lodge. I love seeing people when they’re, when they get here for the first time and they kind of look around and you can kind of see. Going like, wow, it’s so beautiful. And then they immediately go from the parking lot to the tee box of whole one to take a picture of Brockway mountain, because it’s just it’s right there.

    So, you can drive right up to the top. There’s several lookouts along the way, where you can see Lake superior, you can see the whole town of Copper Harbor. so it’s just beautiful. So that’s definitely something that. Everybody should do when they come. another thing that’s really cool is us.

    Highway 41 actually starts in Copper Harbor. The very beginning. Or the ending, I guess, depending on which way you’re going, starts right in Copper Harbor. So you drive right to the end of it. And then from there, there’s no more roads, that’s it, there’s a dirt road that goes out to the point.  and there’s some trails back there as well, but that’s it, you can, you can drive and do the loop right around the, the very end of U S 41.

    And there’s a little story on a board there behind, you know, The beginning of it and where it goes, and then it actually ends in Florida somewhere. So,  there’s a sign in Copper Harbor that says how many miles you are from Florida and you can follow us 41 right down to Florida from where it starts in Copper Harbor.

    so that’s another cool thing. And then there’s just so many beaches and just scenic overlooks. You can, you can take, The Lake shore road from Copper Harbor, right back down into town Kelly mint. and it’s just gorgeous. There’s roadside parks, and you’re just along Lake superior the whole way. So I always recommend to people that coming either into town or out of town, take that road one direction or the other, because it’s just beautiful.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:12:47] now with regards to when you were talking about us highway 41. The Trek back from that, just that just kind of cracks me up from Northern Michigan all the way down to, Florida is, is part of that. as part of that freeway, is it, is it really super scenic? Is it, you know, what, what what’s, what can we expect if we’re driving that track?

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:13:07] you know, I don’t really know what it looks like past, past, Michigan.  Actually I lived in Tennessee for awhile and it did go through Tennessee near where I lived there. But, yeah. but when you take it out of Copper Harbor, the locals call it the covered stretch. So it’s a, it’s a. Windy section of road.

    That is what it sounds like. The trees are on either side and they have grown up over the top of it. So it’s almost like a tunnel of trees.  and we’re known for our fall colors here. that’s one of our busiest times of the season. And so driving through that tunnel of trees in the fall is just absolutely gorgeous.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:13:44] I bet. And it sounds like from what you’re describing there, this us highway 41 almost sounds like a, like route 66. They can people across the U S but this just take people from Michigan to Florida.

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:13:55] yep. Yep. That’s right. And it’s a highway though. It’s not, we are actually Copper Harbor is, the farthest city in the United States.  from an interstate. So we’re actually 251 miles from an actual interstate. And that’s so we’re the farthest city in the United States from an interstate.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:14:17] Wow. Yeah. So people must be, if they’re, if they’re coming, if they’re coming up your way, they must really be wanting to go there.

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:14:24] Yeah. And some people don’t realize until they get here, how far out we really are and they get here and they say, wow, you’re really out there. we are.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:14:33] Yeah, cause I’ve driven that Trek along, Lake superior, not the whole thing. Maybe, you know, maybe just a hand. Well, the miles. So before, when you were talking about how, there’s like no cell phone reception up there, you’re not clowning around. I mean, I was using the G S on my phone and for some stupid reason, I shut it off at a rest area.

    And when I got back into my car and tried different they’re back on, I had no signal, no maps in the car. Cause I’m a moron. And it was pretty, pretty scary there. I was using maps at the rest area to kind of navigate my way across the . Okay.

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:15:03] Yeah, you might want to print off your MapQuest directions. Go old school. If you’re, if you’re playing, you’re afraid of losing service. the top of Brockway mountain, pretty much everybody can get service there, but other than that, you’re relying on the wifi from different businesses. so living here and working here for so long, I’ve saved all the passwords now in my phone.

    So I can, I’m pretty much wifi hopping as I go through town to keep surface on my phone.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:15:28] Nice. Nice. Yeah. I actually thought about that when I was up there. I was, I was just thinking there it’s gotta be internet up here somewhere. I don’t have cell reception, but there’s gotta be wifi around here somewhere. So. Nice. Okay. with regards to everything that’s happening with, COVID right now, I’d like to talk to, I’d like to talk to you a little bit about what, you know, policies or procedures that you, that you have in place.

    That’s helping to make sure that if people are traveling and coming to your facilities, that, that they can be safe. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:16:00] Yeah, definitely. so everything that we did. As far as following government restrictions and regulations, you know, we, we wanted to try to stay as consistent as possible. you know, we didn’t want to be yo-yo back and forth like, Oh, we’re allowed to do this now we’re not allowed to do this. So,  we sort of made a plan that was even more restrictive than what we were allowed to do.

    just keeping in mind that. It might get to that point anyway, and then we’re already there and we’re already planned for it and prepared for it. so when dining rooms were restricted to 50% capacity, we went to 30%,  where you could keep, you know, seats at your bar. If they were six feet apart, we just got rid of all of our bar seating completely.

    our tables are seven feet apart instead of six. So.  that’s what, that’s what we did to just give that buffer. and it worked, you know, we were able to get through last season with the plan that we made in may and we were able to stay consistent. Everybody knew what they were getting when they came to the Q and a mountain lodge, because we were able to keep that standard throughout the whole season.

    And another thing that we were going to do. Even if the government and all of a sudden said, yep, open up. You can do, you know, everything you did before. COVID we weren’t going to do that. We were going to stay with our plan throughout the rest of the season. And that’s what we did. so we had the,  like I said, tables were seven P seven feet apart.

    and we didn’t allow, I think it was groups of six, I think could sit at a table, but. Any more than that. If there were tables that were spread apart, we didn’t allow groups to put them together to sit together.  we had a takeout plan in place, so like right now we’re actually opening up for the winter season tomorrow.

    And in Michigan, we are restricted to take out only. So we already have a great system in place for that. we have a little. Cafe window in the back of our building. And people come through the back door, order their takeout through the cafe window, and then they can take it in the summer. We had a lot of outdoor seating, picnic tables, Adirondack chairs scattered throughout the property that people were able to just take their lunch right outside or their dinner.

     And we’re working through some things for the winter right now. We’re not sure. we’re supposed to find out, I believe this weekend, if this current order will be extended or if we can open up to dine in, or not. Obviously now that it’s winter and it’s 19 degrees outside, that cuts down, outdoor seating a lot for us.

    So,  we’re not sure what kind of traffic we’re going to get for that right now, but yeah, our, our biggest, our biggest. Priority was staying consistent and just, you know, making a plan that was conservative and something that we thought could carry through the season. And we accomplished that. So we were really happy with the way the season went.

    actually Copper Harbor as a whole saw,  a record season, two seasoned that, you know, we haven’t seen. Traffic in recent history, every business in Copper Harbor was just, you know, we didn’t know what to expect this summer, but it wasn’t this.  and Copper Harbor, you know, we rely a lot, on seasonal workers, people who come from out of the area, we use the  program, which is a foreign exchange, like employment.

    Service. So students from foreign countries come and work here in Copper Harbor. so those got shut down. Pretty much everybody who was coming from out of the area either wasn’t allowed or didn’t feel comfortable. So we had a very bare bones staff, as well. So it was, it was a busy, crazy season,

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:19:38] Yeah, I bet.

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:19:39] Everybody stayed safe. you know, as far as I know, we never got nobody in Copper Harbor got hit as you know, I dunno what they call it a hot spot or anything like that. So none of our staff ever got sick. Nobody. None of the locals or anything. Copper Harbor kind of got together as a whole and said, Hey, if every business in Copper Harbor does the same thing, then anybody who comes to Copper Harbor knows you have to have a mask on, you have to sanitize your hands.

    As you enter the building, you have to stay six feet apart. so that’s what we all did and we all kind of banded together and we made it through the season.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:20:11] Nice. I know that this last summer, when I was thinking about places to travel, the P was high on my list because I thought that because there was there wasn’t nearly as many people in the ups or was in the lower peninsula that, Yeah, I’d have a much better vacation, but I think everybody in the lower peninsula had the same thought that I did.

    So we were all, we were all.

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:20:32] We, we definitely experienced that. Like I said, it was the busiest tourist season in recent history. And, and that’s why I think people look for the least populated areas and,  here in the Copper country and the key one, you don’t really have to try to social distance because it’s very rare that you’re ever going to be within six feet of another person.

    Anyway. So, but yeah, so we, we had a great season.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:20:56] Nice nice. Now, if anybody’s listening to this podcast and they, they want to come and, you know, check out the lodge, maybe escape, you know, for a little weekend or a week or whatever that might be, what would be the best way for them to, to connect with you online, to learn more about you?

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:21:13] Our website, Cuban mountain lodge.com. we try to drive people to the website first. That’s where we keep the most updated information, everything like that. So there’s all of our lodging, and area information and, Our food and beverage information. So we always put, our restaurant menu changes weekly.

    and so every week you can find the updated menu online. so that would be the best place you can make reservations right online. And of course, if you call the front desk will answer. If, you know, some people like to talk to a real person first and just in really find out what they’re getting into.

    So either either of those ways, a good way to make a reservation and just get information and see what we’re about.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:21:55] and I will have to say that, before this interview I was going over the Cubana, website that you have. And I was pleasantly surprised that, you’re, you know, you have a blog and that you’re keeping it update and you’re sharing stories about, not only it is what’s, you know, what’s going on and everything else, but also to, you know, highlighting, the different, people, you know, at the lodge and the, the, they’re creating, ultimate experiences for your customers.

    So I have to give you guys kudos for that. I, I still think having, having some kind of a blog and a website is still a great thing to be able to, to be able to communicate your message out there. So, you know, I just wanted to give you props for that.

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:22:32] Yeah, thank you. That is something that we, we really try to stay on time. Several of us here. we’ll, we’ll contribute to that and write the blogs depending on what the subject is. So, we try to keep it updated when we’re doing new things like with the trails and the guided hikes. And, now that we’re opening up for the, for the winter season, which by the way, this is the first time we’re going to be open in the winter since, 2010, I believe when the Akima County owned it, they tried it for a couple of winters and it didn’t, it didn’t.

    Pan out for them, but, we are keeping, 14 of our cabins open. We’ll have the bar and restaurant open.  and for the first time in like since 2010, so we’re definitely, keeping up with putting out information on that. So people know that, you know, they can come and enjoy the mountain lodge and copper Harbor in the winter.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:23:21] Nice. And I have to ask this question, cause I know you guys get considerably more snow than what we get here in the lower peninsula. is it going to be smart to get a four by four, should people be showing up on a snow machine? What’s what’s going to be their best way to get to the lodge.

     Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:23:37] Nope, just a regular, a regular vehicle. We’ll get you here right on us 41.  it’s always good to have good tires. Winter tires are all seasoned, but, we’ve been taking care of our road systems in the winter for, you know, a long, long time. So they’ve become very good at making sure people can get around in the winter.

     Snowmobiling is a huge, huge, part of our tourism industry for the winter though. So, I mean, I think we have 3000 miles of trails or something like that in the P so that’s a huge, a huge attraction. but yeah, just bring your boots and your warm clothes and, and you can hop right in the car and drive on up.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:24:18] Nice. Yes. And speaking of, you know, when you’re talking about, for about summer meals and snow machines, I just recently found out that there’s actually a snowmobile museum in the upper peninsula, so I am working with them to get them onto the podcast as well. So you’re right. It’s, it’s, it’s crazy popular and I it’s totally cool.

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:24:37] Yeah, skiing as well. Mount Bohemia is right down the road in Loch LaBelle. It’s about 15, 20 minutes from here. and they actually were just recently on one of the 10 best ski resorts of the United States. I forget what,  group puts this list out, but they consistently get on this, on this list.

    And it’s, a lot of back country type skiing. they don’t groom anything. there are runs that kind of go are more open that goes through the trees, but a lot of it’s gladed where you’re just kind of cruising through the trees. and they have, I’m not sure how they’re doing this. They’re lodging this year because they do have like group hostel style lodging as well as yurts that you can rent out.

     And then they have individual cabins down by the Lake. But, so they’re a big attraction Mount Ripley down at Holton is another ski Hill that, is, a pretty big attraction. They, they, don’t have as many runs. I don’t believe in they’re all groomed. So it’s a different style of skiing, but they’re both very popular in their own way.

    And people come from, you know, a long ways away to use these ski Hills.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:25:40] nice. It just sounds like a, just an absolutely gorgeous area.

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:25:44] It really is. And it’s just, it’s so unique. And people say that all the time when they come up here, that you just, you know, you’re driving through the middle of nowhere for, for so long to get here. And then all of a sudden, it just opens up to this beautiful little town where it’s just, you know, it’s this unique, quaint little place and it’s, I love it.

    Cliff Duvernois: [00:26:03] nice, Mariah. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today.

    Mariah Summers, Keweenau Mountain Lodge: [00:26:08] Thank you for having me. Yeah, it was, it was great. 

    About The Host

    About The Host

    Cliff Duvernois

    Cliff is the host of “The Call of Leadership” podcast.  He has published over 500 short stories over Facebook, Medium and LinkedIn.  He is a passionate lifelong learner, marketer and philanthropist.  He currently lives in Reese, Michigan with his fiancé Sherry and her two children.

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