It’s an early Saturday morning in January. Tom Lakenen (pronounced lay-kin-en) is getting ready for another busy day at Lakenenland, his popular roadside attraction in Michigan’s Central Upper Peninsula.
Using a gas-powered leaf blower, the pipe-fitter-turned-sculptor sends puffs of lake-effect snow billowing from around the 50-plus metal sculptures that populate this stop 15 miles east of Marquette on Highway M-28 and along snowmobile Trail 417.
“This one’s my favorite,” Lakenen says with a grin as we come to a sculpture of seven stars in the form of the Big Dipper. “It collects the least snow.”
Besides snow, Lakenenland has been collecting curiosity and praise from snowmobilers on the major east-west route in Alger and Marquette counties. Lakenenland’s 37 acres of pinewoods are bisected by the trail and feature a loop through the park for visitors.
Six months of winter and more than 300 inches of snow can make people do strange things. Bizarre. Unique. Call it what you will, but it’s 100 percent “Yooper.” (For the uninitiated, that’s someone from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula — the U.P.) The one thing in common among all the pieces is that they’re created from scrap from industrial jobs sites.
“I quit drinkin’ nine years ago, then started creating some of the things I saw when I was drinking,” Lakenen jokes.
The “Sculpture Park, Free!” sign along the trail brings in sledders who check out the sculptures and take a break from the trail at the lean-to where Lakenen keeps a campfire ablaze and the coffee and hot cocoa warm.
If that’s not enough excitement for you, nearby, in Trenary, Mich., (population 400) they’re racing outhouses.
Yep, since 1993, thousands of visitors from around the Midwest have converged on the snowed-covered main street of this once-hopping Central U.P. sawmill town on the last Saturday in February to push custom-built privies 500 feet against the clock. The only rules are that you have to have a toilet seat and roll of TP on board. There are kids’ events and a People’s Choice award for best theme, and costumes too, like the “Old No. 2 Poo-Poo Choo-Choo” entry resembling a locomotive that showed up one year.
The 14th Ever Outhouse Classic will take place Saturday, Feb. 24 at 2 p.m. For information, call (906) 446-3471 or visit www.lakenenland.com
— Aaron Peterson