Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Scene magazine's Spring 2019 issue. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor's centers, chambers of commerce or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.
A drive down M-115 leads to the small village of Mesick, which sits near the Manistee River just north of the vast Manistee National Forest.
Nearly 400 people call the Wexford County community home. But each spring up to 7,000 crowd in for the Mesick Mushroom Festival, the town’s main claim to fame. The 60th annual event runs May 10-12.
Shiela Ferrel lives between Mesick and Copemish but calls the former, where she went to school, her hometown. Ferrel is the Mesick Lions Club president and 10-year chair of the Mushroom Festival.
“It used to be the gladiola festival,” she said, referring to the perennial flowering plant in the iris family. “I think the gladiola farmers went out of business.”
Morel mushrooms pop up all around Mesick, especially in the spring. That’s why the Lions Club decided to showcase the fungi in May.
Ferrel said the event first took place in the parking lot of the old hardware store but since has expanded.
“Now it’s the whole town (that takes part),” she said. “It’s amazing to see all the people in your town and know that you’re part of it. They come from all over. A lot of downstaters come to hunt that fungus.”
Locals also sell their morels during the festival, she said.
“The locals know where to find them. It’s kind of like your hunting or fishing spot. They’re not going to tell you where it is.”
While morels are the focus, the festival also features an arts and crafts fair, a vintage car show and a flea market, which Ferrel said is the biggest draw. Nearly 300 local and out-of-town vendors fill the lot with their wares, from flea market finds and hanging plants to jewelry and clothing.
Ferrel said her favorite part of the weekend festival is the Grand Parade, which she manages. Visitors can watch as the 50 or more floats — from classic cars to marching bands — make their way through town. This year’s theme is “Love, Peace and Shrooms.”
Another popular event is the Mud Bog, which Ferrel said is as fun to watch as it is to participate in.
“We have a mud pit (people) drive through,” she said. “I work the gate for four or five hours, and it’s amazing to watch these trucks. You’re rooting for them. It’s kind of fun, even after all these years.”
The Lions Club is also bringing back the pageant portion of the festival, said Ferrel, whose aunt was once a gladiola queen. Now Mesick preschool through 12th-grade students can vie for the title of king or queen.
The Mesick Mushroom Festival is the biggest fundraiser for the Lions Club, Ferrel said. Visitors must pay an entry fee for the carnival rides, Mud Bog and Bump and Run, but everything else is free.
The festival opens at 9 a.m. May 10 with the flea market. The day also includes carnival games, a softball tournament, Friday Night Live and a walk with the Girl Scouts.
Attendees can participate in the Mesick Mushroom River 5K run/walk, a volleyball tournament and a cornhole contest May 11. The Mesick Bulldog Marching Band presents a concert after the Grand Parade. The weekend concludes May 12 with the antique car show from 9 a.m. to noon.
“Come enjoy a small town atmosphere with a big heart and maybe some ‘shrooms,” Ferrel said. “If you can’t find mushrooms, there’s always something else to do.”
Visit the Mesick Mushroom Festival office off M-37 or call 231-885-2679 for a map and a complete schedule. ■
A trip to Mesick isn’t complete without a visit to nearby Kaleva, a Manistee County village about 16 miles east. The community’s main claim to fame: the Bottle House Museum, a National Register of Historic Places landmark. The home was built in 1941 by John Makinen out of 60,000 chipped and flawed bottles from his local pop bottling factory and now houses Kaleva’s historic museum.
A demonstration sauna opened behind the museum in June 2018 and recognizes the community’s deep Finnish roots.
“It is not a working sauna, but people have enjoyed going through it and reading about the tradition of taking a sauna,” said Cynthia Asiala, president of the Kaleva Historical Society. “People used these rooms as bath houses in the days without indoor plumbing.”
The 10-by-20-foot structure was made with locally harvested logs, Asiala said. The interior is furnished like traditional Finnish saunas, meaning it includes a stove with a water reservoir and rocks, benches to sit on and a dressing room.
The Bottle House Museum is open to the public from noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays between Memorial Day and Labor Day.