Hunts' Guide to The Upper Peninsula

 
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COVINGTON

Region: Keweenaw Peninsula

Covington itself is a dispersed rural community in an area of Finnish farms and dairying. To Upper Peninsula visitors Covington is known as the place at important highway intersections, where U.S. 141 (to Crystal Falls) joins M-28 (to Ironwood and Duluth), just a few miles west of U.S. 41 between Marquette and the Keweenaw. The large family home and barn that's now the Covington Rest Home, a landmark on the north side of M-28, was built by local people who owned a big sawmill in lumbering days. The gas station at M-28 and U.S. 41 is also an attractive little restaurant.
For many music lovers in the western and central Upper Peninsula, however, Covington means the day-long Covington Township Finnish Music Festival on one day of each Fourth of July weekend. Local volunteers put it on, and do many little things way better than usual. $7 buys an all-day button. The brats, for instance, and the homemade French fries. The festival attracts on the order of 2,000 visitors. Breakfast and church tours, both at the Bethany Lutheran Church on U.S. 141, are from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. The church interior was decorated by a Chicago Art Institute faculty member many years ago. The style is sort of Art Deco with a Finnish rural populist touch. The nearby Covington Township Historical Museum is open.

The music and the all-day chicken BBQ and food all take place in and near the big Covington Pavilion, paid for partly with music festival funds. It's on the south side of M-28, a little west of the U.S. 141 intersection. Most of the area's Finnish-influenced musicians play at the music festival. It has the mood of a reunion on a grand scale, with folks who can really dance. Also, free summer music concerts take place in the Pavilion. Check the new Covington web site, www.covingtonmichigan.com , for details of the concerts, the Finnish music festival, and other Covington-area events and institutions.

Covington is far from the dying town it ought to be, thanks to the energy of an influx of young retirees who wanted to come back to their childhood homes. Dynamo Marge Kantola, married to a Covington native, herself hails from Detroit's large Finnish community and met her husband in the Motor City. Marge maintains that Covington has it all: a restaurant, the Hardwood Café where you can even get prime rib on Saturday night; a gas station (the café is in the gas station); a post office; a park; a community center; three healthy church congregations; a Head Start program; a museum; a recreation center (in winter the pavilion is flooded and becomes an ice rink, with a nearby tow rope and sledding hill); a community web site; a convenient general grocery four miles west (the Watton Country Store, formerly a co-operative store); wilderness, fishing, and camping a few miles away along the Sturgeon River in the Hiawatha National Forest; and a real sense of community and pride. (The Do Drop Inn has just closed, which is a loss.) Students are bussed to the big consolidated public school in L'Anse. One envious observer from L'Anse says it actually helps that Covington has only one retail business because it reduces destructive rivalries. To be a living community, Covington people know they have to work together.

The interesting Covington Township Historical Museum is on a side street off U.S. 141. Turn at the abandoned corner store. Tacked to the museum door is a list of phone numbers of people willing to open the museum on short notice. The museum is in the former community building and movie theater. Many displays offer insights on Finnish-American rural life just after World War II, before the young people had left for the cities.

If you want to have a good chance of seeing a moose, consider making this trip. Go along M-28 to Covington, then drive 8 1/2 miles south along U.S. 141 until you get to Tracey Creek. (The creek crosses the highway about two miles north of the Iron County line.)

Each year, when the DNR sends a helicopter out to locate moose before netting, collaring, and tagging them, huge numbers of moose are seen in the wetlands along Tracey Creek east of U.S. 141. Be prepared to go back in on rough logging roads, and take a compass! Plan your trip for the few hours after dawn or before dusk.

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Michigan's Upper Peninsula - Hunts' Guide to the U.P.

 
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