A Morel Hunter’s Paradise

With two big annual events — the Mushroom Festival and the Jeep Blessing classic — Mesick rates as the place to be in May
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morel mushrooms
State and federal lands around Mesick and beyond often provide a treasure chest of prized finds for morel hunters.
Photos courtesy of Mesick Lions Mushroom Festival

Come spring, Dorie Kastl watches her usually quiet, quaint village roughly 20 miles northwest of Cadillac come alive when the Mesick Lions Mushroom Festival begins.

Home to about 400 residents, Mesick more than quintuples its population during the Mother Day’s weekend celebration of the area’s morel-hunting heritage, which will be marking its 65th year in 2024.

“It causes traffic jams in a town that’s certainly not used to having them, but in a good way,” says Kastl, who first attended the festival in 1983 and has helped organize its hobby and craft show since 2014. “For me, it’s a great weekend of getting together with friends and family after our long winters, and seeing people come in from all over to enjoy a lot of things that are happening in our small town.”

While venturing into the Manistee National Forest and other public lands surrounding Mesick to search for morels and participating in a largest-mushroom contest are the focal points, the festival packs plenty into its three days. This year’s event, slated for May 10-12, includes the craft show; a massive flea market; the hugely popular mud bog, softball, and cornhole tournaments; a grand parade; a street fair; live music; an antique car show and cruise; and a carnival. Admission for everything other than the mud bog and carnival is free.

Kastl runs the craft show with other members of the Mesick Women’s Club and, each year, she eagerly anticipates what unique creations will appear. “It’s nice for us to just go through and see what people have made, because you never know what somebody might bring this time,” she says. “There’s really something for everyone during the weekend, which is why it’s worth the trip for people who haven’t attended before. I had fun playing in the softball tournament when I was younger, and I love watching the mud bog and everything else.”

While the Mushroom Festival wouldn’t be possible without the contributions of local organizations and residents like Kastl, the main organizing body is a core group of roughly 10 dedicated Mesick Lions Club members, led by President Ashlee McCormick.

“Every year, as our small group plans it, I’m reminded what an incredible feat it is just to make the Mushroom Festival happen,” McCormick says. “We’re so thankful to other organizations that handle things like the softball tournament, craft show, and mud bog. All the work is worth it because the festival offers a great time and is a great way to get outdoors, check out our many vendors, and enjoy (all there is) to do.”

For those who are serious about harvesting morels, one of the Lions’ $6 mushroom kits is essential. It includes a Wexford County map showing all the state and federal lands open for mushroom-hunting, a Morel Mushroom Guide, and an onion bag that allows spores to fall back to the ground.

Recommended hunting areas include the Manistee River and North Country trails south of Hodenpyl Dam Pond, the MacKenzie Trail System near the Caberfae Peaks ski area, and the Cadillac Pathway.

According to general guidelines published by the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau, black morels grow near ash, sycamore, aspen, and coniferous trees, and in forested areas that have burned within the past two years. Lighter-colored morels grow near a variety of hardwood trees like poplar and ash, as well dead or dying elm trees and older apple orchards.

Just don’t bother asking locals to narrow down where the hot spots for morels are.

Mushroom Festival
The annual Mushroom Festival features a midway, craft show, live music, car show and cruise, mud bog, a parade with more than 50 floats, and a flea market with 180 vendors.

“It seems like everyone around here who regularly looks for mushrooms has different secrets about how and when to look for them, and where the best places are,” McCormick says. “They’re probably not going to reveal those secrets. Personally, I don’t get caught up in mushroom-finding strategy, but I just enjoy exploring the woods while looking for them.”

Fortunately, coming home with morels doesn’t require foraging. They’re sold at several places during the festival, including the Ellens Corners BP gas station.

The mud bog, a highlight of the weekend for many, features trucks roaring through a mud pit to thunderous cheers. Competitors are divided into classes based on tire size, with the largest class reserved for tires more than 42 inches high.

The flea market includes nearly 180 vendors, while the Friday night street fair has children’s games, a bounce house, a treat walk, and fire truck rides. The Saturday parade usually features more than 50 floats, and awards are given for the best float, marching unit, color guard, ribbon horse and rider, and pre-1979 automobile. Mothers enjoy free carnival rides on Mother’s Day when accompanied by a paid child. Awards for the classic car show are determined through a vote of attendees.

“The festival is a very busy time around here, with so many people doing so many things,” McCormick says. “It’s cool that everything doesn’t take place in a single spot. People spread out all over town to enjoy the fun.”

Mesick hosts its annual Jeep Blessing, which also draws thousands, on May 4. The popular tradition, now in its 23rd year, celebrates what makes the Jeep an iconic and thrilling mode of transportation. Hundreds of Jeeps invade the town, and some owners test them on four obstacle courses that offer varying degrees of difficulty. Obstacles include steep and tall mounds of dirt, logs, tractor tires, mud, and rocks. 

It’s all part of why locals say Mesick is really the place to be in May. 

Plan It!

Mushroom Festival
mesick-mushroomfest.org

Jeep Blessing
facebook.com/groups/jeepblessing

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