Gather Around the Fireplace

Find a free fire to warm your soul after a day on the trails.
Photography courtesy of Thinkstock

Fires put us in a contemplative mood, elicit stories we maybe wouldn’t otherwise share, serve as cook centers for anything on a stick and foster lingering on a beach long after the sun has set. They are ancient, primal and handy — especially come winter. While there are dozens of fireplaces to gather around at the state’s many ski and tubing resorts, here are five that are wholly free, waiting to offer warmth along a ski, snowmobile, sledding, hiking and shopping trail.

Fire and Whimsy

If stumbling upon a bonfire in the middle of a snow-coated forest seems mirage-like, imagine finding it surrounded by iron sculptures of a pink elephant, a lumberjack that looks part Frankenstein or a golden insect with antlers and its tongue sticking out. The sculpture park called Lakenenland started as the hobby of a retired ironworker who pieced together one sculpture of scrap metal, then another, and then wanted to help snowmobilers who’d roar by on the adjacent trail. He started by building a fire and then offered snacks and hot chocolate — for free. The “Help Yourself” sign still is there, as well as 60 sculptures and the fire. Logs are strategically placed as an invitation to gather around.
2800 M-28, Ishpeming

Fire That Warms Your Downtown Stroll

Downtown Holland already was a stroll-worthy winter destination when in 2010, the city placed a tall red brick fireplace on the corner of Eighth Street and College Avenue and started keeping a fire burning low in summer and with more vigor midwinter. Holland also runs the largest publicly owned snowmelt system in the country under downtown streets, meaning neither snow nor ice would hinder a winter walk amid fun shops, restaurants, coffee shops and pubs. The four-sided fireplace has become a gathering draw — and no wonder. Even the seats surrounding it are heated.

Fires put us in a contemplative mood, elicit stories we maybe wouldn’t otherwise share and serve as cook centers for anything on a stick.

Big Blaze at the Big M

The Big M trail system in the middle of the Manistee National Forest near Wellston has plenty to offer cross-country skiers and winter cyclists. Its trails traverse a circle of hills roughly 5 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, making it the largest cross-country ski trail systems in the Midwest. The 30 kilometers of groomed ski trails are ringed by an outer trail system for winter biking and snowshoeing. Head to the warming hut with picnic tables for a picnic and the piece de résistance: the wood stove.

A Forest Blaze That Even Smokey Bear Might Like

Any midwinter day, Midland’s parks and recreation staff will have a warming fire blazing at the official City Forest Fire Pit. The fire is the centerpiece (and après-fun gathering spot) for a city winter sports park that includes what Recreation Manager Marcie Post calls Michigan’s only old-school hand-packed and iced toboggan run. There’s a groomed sledding hill, too, ice skating and 11 kilometers of cross-country ski trails that includes a short-lighted loop.

Snowshoes, Wine and Fire

Tuck a bottle of one of its award-winning vintages into your backpack for a perfect vineyard snowshoe picnic drink — or just hike. Bowers Harbor Vineyard has developed a mile-long trail with markers offering tidbits about the vineyard and area’s ecology and landscape while also showing off the landscape’s sweeping bay views. Trails are free for use during vineyard business hours; the winery also keeps an outdoor fire burning every Friday through Sunday through winter and will start one upon request.

Kim Schneider is an award-winning travel writer who has visited nearly every corner of Michigan.

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