Thursday, July 28, 2011

Starring Family Celebrates 30th Summer of Pure Michigan Fun in the Sun with Saugatuck Dune Rides

Mile after magnificent mile of sugar-sand beach skirt the shoreline of Lake Michigan, just waiting to be explored. The Saugatuck Dune Rides has been offering a one-of-a-kind experience for generations and this year, the Starring family celebrates their 30th anniversary with one of West Michigan’s premier summer attractions.

“Our goal is to provide guests with 35-40 minutes of entertainment, fun and excitement,” says Linus Starring. “We provide a unique tour to learn about local vegetation and wildlife, the natural surroundings of Lake Michigan and the lost “ghost town” of Singapore.”

Dune rides in the Saugatuck area date back to 1954, when Ron Jousma (then 21 and home from the Army) decided that Saugatuck needed a dune ride offering similar to what was taking place up the coastline in the Silver Lake Sand Dunes area. He bought the present dune property, west of Goshorn Lake, from a Chicago man and turned his 1942 Ford convertible into a dune buggy – with added seats in the rumble seat.

Later, he added Ford coupes (1946 and 1947) to which he cut off the tops and outfitted the cars with super-wide tires. Then, he took to forming trails through the dunes.

In 1961, Jousma and a friend picked up two half-ton Ford truck chassis and drove them back from Kansas City, sitting on wooden boxes. These were outfitted with steel beds and seats, adding to the fleet of buggies. Later on, Dodge power wagons were added, equipped with aircraft tires to handle the unforgiving sand.

Ten years later, in 1971, Jousma opened a dune ride in the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in Colorado, operating both facilities until selling them to an Indiana family in 1978.

Linus and Janice Starring purchased Saugatuck Dune Rides in 1981. It was a new adventure, as the couple had never even ridden on the schooners until they inspected them prior to purchasing the business. The past 30 years, the family has made their contribution to the Pure Michigan summer experience in the Saugatuck area.

The company now boasts a fleet of eight dune schooners and employs 10 full time and six part time employees during its six-month season (April 30-October 23, 2011). On average, 30,000 people take the dune rides each summer – with visitors coming from all over the country and the world.

In addition to all the fun and games on the dunes, there is the constant maintenance – on both the fleet and the dunes. Shifting sands require daily grading of the trails to make them safe for passengers. Driving in sand means the schooners need oil changes and engine maintenance every 100 miles.

During the off-season, Linus – who holds a degree in heavy equipment – is a railroad engineer for two small freight lines in Michigan. That’s in addition to the fabrication and updating of equipment for the next season. Meanwhile, Janice manages the all the office duties, handling all booking and scheduling for the popular attraction.

Saugatuck Dune Rides is located at 6495 Blue Star Highway in Saugatuck. Find them online at (and on Facebook: Saugatuck Dune Rides). For reservations, call 269-857-2253 (

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Robinette’s Hosts “Everything Peaches” Centennial Event - Saturday, August 13

In celebration of its 100th year, Robinette’s Apple Haus and Winery has been holding a number of events throughout the year that are fun for the whole family. For the coming month, Robinette’s will host an “Everything Peaches” centennial event, Saturday, August 13 from 10am–5pm.

The event will consist of an all day sale on select peach items. Merchandise will be discounted anywhere from 10-25% off. These sale items will include: peach sundaes, peach pie, peach butter, peach strudels and turnovers, peach jam, peach gummy rings, peach muffin mix, peach pie plates, all pie crust mix, peach flavored popcorn, and peach donuts. Robinette’s unique Passionate Peach Spumante will also be at a discount. Fresh peaches and free wine tastings will also be featured, as well as the opportunity to hop on Robinette’s giant jumping pillow.

Founded in 1911 by Barzilla Robinette, the farm hits its centennial mark this year. Over the decades, Robinette’s Apple Haus and Winery has grown to offer much to the Grand Rapids community. The farm grows apples, peaches, cherries, nectarines, and apricots. The Apple Haus has a lunchroom, bakery, fresh donuts, and a cider mill. The Gift Barn features the wine tasting and gift shop.

Located at 3142 4 Mile Rd NE in Grand Rapids, Robinette’s Apple Haus Winery is a Michigan Centennial Farm operated by the fourth- and fifth-generation Robinette family since 1911.

Governor Snyder Declares August “Michigan Camping & RV Month”

For generations, Michigan has welcomed campers and RVers to its natural woodlands, freshwater shorelines and beaches, in two distinct peninsulas – nestled in the middle of the Great Lakes Region.

In honor of such tradition, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, along with several legislators, has declared August as “Michigan Camping & Recreation Vehicle Month.” Camping is a key contributor to the state’s $17 billion tourism industry. The declaration supports the economic and recreational contributions that the camping industry contributes to Michigan’s overall tourism.

Both Michiganders and visitors alike take advantage of the state’s array of sun, freshwater coastline, 19 million acres of woodlands, soft breezes and fresh air, where the temperate climate allows for great camping and outdoor recreation–making it the ultimate Pure Michigan experience!

Michigan has more than 950 licensed private recreation vehicle parks and campgrounds, with more than 111,000 licensed campsites. The state has more than 160 county or government operated campgrounds with over 14,700 sites–from rustic to full-service. Michigan also boasts over 300,000 licensed recreation vehicles, including motorhomes and travel trailers. In 2010, Michigan ranked third in the nation in new recreation vehicle sales.

Camping and RVing encourages visitors and locals alike to partake in activities such as boating, fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, paddling, pedaling, golfing, geocaching, nature watching, photography, and other outdoor activities, which also highlight Michigan’s great outdoor parks and recreation areas.

Michigan is home to 98 state parks and recreation areas–as well as 133 state forest campgrounds–under the auspices of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and seven forests/parks/lakeshores in Michigan under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service. Collectively, Michigan offers 15,000 sites on state and federal lands designated for camping.

Michigan’s two non-profit camping organizations: ARVC Michigan–the Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds of Michigan and MARVAC–the Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles & Campgrounds equally promote and support private campground and RV parks throughout the state.

All state lands are managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, while the national parks and lakeshores are managed by the National Park Service and/or the U.S. Forest Service. All campgrounds – including the companion recreational activities – are among the tourism destinations promoted by Travel Michigan and its award-winning Pure Michigan campaign.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Unity Vibration Releases Nation's First Pure Kombucha Beer at Michigan Summer Beer Fest

Attendees at the 14th Annual Michigan Summer Beer Festival will have the opportunity to sample the nation’s first pure Kombucha beer – crafted locally by Tarek and Rachel Kanaan of Unity Vibration Living Kombucha Tea. The festival will be held this weekend, July 22-23, at Riverside Park in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town.

Relatively new on the American scene, Kombucha is a raw, living, fermented, naturally-carbonated, unpasteurized beverage – with a long history in Russia and China. The lightly sparkling beverage is made by fermenting black or green tea and sugar with a culture of various bacteria and yeasts (often referred to as a SCOBY: Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast).

“You feed the Kombucha mushroom the black tea and sugar and it converts most of the sugar,” says Tarek. “This process creates many beneficial acids, enzymes and viable probiotics.”

Kombucha also contains anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals and more, which help people to balance their metabolism, aid in digestion, raise energy levels, detoxify and alkalinize the body and is even said to help prevent or heal cancer.

Unity Vibration will have three flavors of brew available at the Summer Beer Festival, including plain, pineapple/ginger and the current seasonal: strawberry rhubarb.

Triple Goddess Kombucha Beer will also be available. Described as a marriage of 30 day brewed Kombucha, featuring organic dried hops and either organic raw ginger or organic fresh raspberries, the brew is open air fermented in a Lambic-style, then oak barrel aged and bottle conditioned.

“Our Triple Goddess yields a unique refreshing exceptional fruit beer,” says Rachel. “The refreshing and slightly vinegar character of Kombucha is a perfect complement to the bitter hops and aromatic fruit. We are an all organic and gluten free product that contains 8-9% alcohol by volume.”

Each batch is brewed by hand and infused with healthy, fresh organic ingredients, as well as positive and loving intentions.

Unity Vibration has been in business for about two years – producing non-alcoholic beverages. Last summer, the federal government issued testing for all Kombuchas on the market. Many came in over .5% alcohol – as they are all raw and viable living creations – changes were required.

“We decided to go the route of ‘microbrewery’ to keep all of our products authentic and to not be forced to dealcoholize, says Tarek, who has experience in brewing wine and beer from wild edibles, as well as more traditional ingredients.

What makes the Kombucha from Unity Vibration different? It’s homemade, meaning the full potency of the enzymes is apparent. The couple began experimenting and brewing their own Kombucha in 2007, playing around with the various unique formulas and flavors. Their products were first introduced to the marketplace in 2009.

Now, under distributorship with Imperial Beverage, their products are found in more than 50 retail outlets statewide. They will also be offering for the first time a single serving bottle and new labels for all of their products created by Flow Design out of Northville. Rachel says: “It is like New Years Eve for us and we are coming in with an incredible BANG! This is really going to take off for us and we are ready!”

In the not too distant future, the Kanaans will be living on their own family farm, growing much of what they infuse into their flavored Kombuchas.

Search: Unity Vibration Living Kombucha Tea on Facebook!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Take A Ride Through History Along the West Michigan Pike

Vintage Views Along the West Michigan Pike: From Sand Trails to US-31by M. Christine Byron & Tom Wilson

The West Michigan Pike, now US-31, is a 400-mile meandering ribbon of road, hugging the coast of Lake Michigan from Michigan City, Indiana to Mackinaw City, Michigan and passing through many small beach towns along the way. Its 1913 slogan, “Lakeshore All the Way” sums up the main feature of this gem of a travel route. The road is sometimes called Michigan’s Route 66.

In their new book, Vintage Views Along the West Michigan Pike: From Sand Trails to US-31, seasoned authors M. Christine Byron & Thomas R. Wilson tell the story of this road’s early beginning as serpentine sand trails and rutted dirt pathways and its transformation to US-31 used by today’s traveler.

“Actually, road improvement was first sought by bicyclists, a craze that swept the country in the 1880s,” explains co-author and Grand Rapids librarian, Christine Byron. “It was the Michigan Wheelmen, an association of bicyclists, who campaigned the legislature to allow each county to adopt a county road system. That really got the ball rolling for road improvement.”

The West Michigan Pike Association was formed in 1913 by boosters from lakeshore communities who knew that a good road would promote tourism, farming, and commercial pursuits along the lakeshore.

The book starts out with a recommendation from Ernest Hemingway in a 1919 letter to his Chicago pals Jenks and Barney, preparing them for their trip to Horton Bay, (near the location of the Hemmingway family’s summer retreat at Walloon Lake), to take the West Michigan Pike, “a pretty good road” and that the trip could be made in three days. Our research road sleuths, Christine and Tom, retraced the original Pike using vintage maps and allow readers to time-travel back to the small towns and villages through their collection of photos and postcards.

This is the fourth book in the Vintage View series. Previous books are: the award winning, Vintage Views of Leelanau County and Vintage Views of the Charlevoix-Petoskey Region and also Vintage Views of the Mackinac Straits Region.

The book is available through independent booksellers, chain bookstores and online.

Vintage Views Facebook

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Grand Rapids Author Tobin T. Buhk Releases Latest Murderous Title - True Crime: Michigan

Take a trip back through Michigan’s bloody past among the pages of True Crime: Michigan, the latest title from West Michigan author, Tobin T. Buhk.

True Crime: Michigan examines crime in the state and explores the landmark cases of robbery, mob activity and murder that have received national attention. They’re all here – some of the most notorious fiends in Michigan’s inglorious criminal history:

• Arthur Warren Waite, who attempted to inherit a fortune by poisoning his in-laws.
• Northern Peninsula terrors Dan Dunn and Jim Summers, criminal kings of Michigan’s wild frontier.
• Andrew Kehoe, the “Michigan Maniac,” who blew up a school full of
children in Bath, Mich.
• Raymond Bernstein, the engineer of Detroit’s “Collingwood Manor Massacre.”
• Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez, the “Lonely Hearts” killers.
• John Norman Collins, the “Co-ed killer”.
• A line-up of hit men who all claimed to have murdered Jimmy Hoffa.
• Coral Watts, “The Sunday Morning Slasher.”
• Plus many others.

“Tobin Buhk’s roundup of Michigan misdeeds includes fascinating true tales of the Great Lakes State’s darker side and more,” writes Michigan author Mardi Link, author of When Evil Came to Good Hart and Isadore’s Secret.

True Crime: Michigan is available at retail outlets and online resources now, and is published by Stackpole Books.

Tobin T. Buhk is a Grand Rapids-based freelance writer and coauthor (with Dr. Stephen D. Cohle, Kent County Medical Examiner) of Cause of Death: Forensic Files of a Medical Examiner (2007) and Skeletons in the Closet: Tales from the County Morgue (2008).


Michigan-Made Valentine Vodka Awarded Double-Gold from has awarded Michigan-made Valentine Vodka with a Double-Gold during its 2011 “Best Domestic Vodka” tasting, held recently at Beacon Restaurant & Bar in New York City.

Twenty-eight journalists, retailers and aficionados tasted 28 small-batch, handcrafted American vodkas. The products were served "blindly", without distractions of brand names. The order of service was randomly selected through a lottery system. Each of the vodkas were poured into fresh glasses from new sealed bottles, and served at slightly above room temperature. There were four flights of seven vodkas each.

The scoring was done on a 5-point system, with 5 as the best. The totals were added up, with the winners determined from 1 to 28, based on the scores received. Ties are listed alphabetically. Gold, Silver and Bronze medals were awarded based on the scores received.

The vodkas that scored over a designated point threshold – including Valentine Vodka – were awarded Double-Gold medals. The tasting notes that follow the rankings are a summary of the results, and all replicate commentary has been eliminated while contrasting opinions have been summarized.

As one of the first distilleries in the world to use a triple-grain recipe – a unique blend of barley, red Michigan wheat and corn, Valentine Vodka displays “vanilla, nutmeg, butterscotch, honey, toffee, creamy, buttery, grain, mineral, smooth, velvety, delicate, dry, nice, clean, peppermint, mellow, light sweet finish,” according to the judges.

According to, there are eight states that boast five or more craft vodka distilleries – including Michigan (as well as California, Colorado, New York, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin), with a recent resurgence.

“Much like craft brewers and vintners, the highly entrepreneurial master distillers proudly use local grains (or potatoes, corn, grapes, honey, apples) and water to produce their small batch craft vodkas,” it reads on the website. “These ‘homegrown’ ingredients impart distinctive character and flavors to the finished products. This local craft approach has proven successful. Even though most of the domestic vodka brands are available only within the state they are produced, they usually sell out their entire production— ensuring future expansion for the enjoyment of vodka lovers everywhere.” is a guide to fine living, featuring unbiased reviews of restaurants, food, wine & spirits, travel, and more. Or simply, a good taste guide to things that taste good.

As Detroit’s first micro distilled spirit since Prohibition, the award-winning Valentine Vodka is well on its way to setting the standard for ultra-premium hand-crafted vodka with its clean, crisp and uniquely flavorful taste.

Last year, Valentine Vodka was awarded a Gold medal ranking during the Beverage Tasting Institute (BTI) 2010 International Review of Spirits Competition – the largest and most prestigious annual spirits competition in the United States. The BTI gave Valentine Vodka a rating of 90 in the “Unflavored Vodka” category.

Rifino Valentine – the man behind Valentine Vodka – is a native of Leelanau County. A graduate of Cornell University, where he earned a BA in Economics, Rifino spent 11 years on Wall Street as an independent trader before founding his own successful trading firm. He returned to his home state in 2005 to fulfill his dream of creating Valentine Vodka.

Through his hand-crafted products, Rifino hopes to draw on the inspiration and history that the City of Detroit brings when it comes to distilled spirits, as he develops and grows Valentine Vodka. After three years of intense research and study, Valentine Vodka reached the market in March, 2009. From Christmas 2009 to the same time 2010, sales for Valentine Vodka has quadrupled in sales and can now be found in more than 900 outlets throughout Michigan and Illinois.

For a list of retail outlets carrying Valentine Vodka, as well as a menu of signature cocktails, log onto (

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wings of Wonder Program Offered Free to Guests at The Homestead Resort

Guests and club members at The Homestead will be treated to a series of free nature-based programs this summer with “The Wonders of Raptors” – by Rebecca Lessard of Wings of Wonder. The programs will be offered in the Camp Tamarack amphitheatre.

Lessard will present a one-hour program that includes a basic introduction to Michigan raptors, an opportunity to meet some of our ambassador raptors up close and view a display of raptor artifacts 9wings, feathers, talons and pellets). Usually, 3-4 raptors attend each presentation and guests are encourages to bring their cameras to the program.

Programs will be offered:

• Wednesday, July 20 (7-8pm)
• Thursday, August 4 (7-8pm)
• Thursday, August 11(3-5pm)

The final program will incorporate an activity where guests can build a nest box for three of Michigan’s smallest raptors: the eastern screech owl, the northern saw whet owl and the little American kestrel. The next boxes will later be mounted on a trail system on The Homestead’s property. Guests and visitors will be able to walk the trail throughout the year looking for these nest boxes and any current raptor residents.

Wings of Wonder is a non-profit raptor sanctuary located in nearby Empire, although it is not open to the public. Active since 1990, the organization’s primary mission is education. Wings of Wonder presents almost 150 educational programs annually throughout Michigan, reaching almost 10,000 people each year. Presentations are designed to foster appreciation, understanding, honor and respect for raptors and the important role these birds play in healthy ecosystems.

Wings of Wonder is also a raptor rehabilitation and release facility. Sick, injured and/or orphaned raptors are admitted for treatment, rehabilitation, and eventual release back to the wild. All raptors are seen and evaluated by a team of participating veterinarians. The primary goal with rehabilitation is to release healthy and strong raptors back into the wild.

Lessard has been a wildlife rehabilitator and educator since 1990. She currently holds rehabilitation permits from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service and is also permitted to possess non-releasable raptors for use in educational programs. In 2009, she received the “Person of the Year” award from Boy Scout Pack 87 of Traverse City; in 2007, she received the Northern Michigan "Environmentalist of the Year" award in Education; and in 2001 was presented the President’s Award by the Michigan Audubon Society for her continuing work with raptors.

For more information on the Wings of Wonder, and Rebecca Lessard, visit

The Homestead is Northern Michigan’s largest waterfront resort community located in the heart of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – a unit of the National Park Service. Along with its unmatched natural setting and miles of frontage on Lake Michigan and the Crystal River, the resort offers guest pools, tennis and golf in the summer; downhill and cross country skiing in the winter; and shops, restaurants, meeting centers and the luxurious new Spa Amira throughout all four seasons.

For more information, visit or call 231.334.5100.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Short’s Brewing Company Sets Sail Aboard Tall Ship Manitou for Sunday Evening Microbrew Cruises

Looking for a unique venue for sampling your favorite craft beers from Short’s Brewing Company? The Traverse Tall Ship Company is hosting its “Microbrew Tasting Cruise” every Sunday evening from July 3 -September 4 (6:30-8:30pm). Pizza from the popular Crusted Creations will also be served. The cost is $50 per person and space is limited to 60 per sail.

“What an awesome beer adventure,” says Jon “Woj” Wojtowicz, Short’s Beer Liberator. “I’m really excited about the rest of the summer and couldn't thank you enough for coming up with such an amazing idea.”

As the ship’s captain sails across Grand Traverse Bay, Woj (or another Short’s representative) will discuss and share four unique beer samples, and share Short’s brewing philosophy and role in Michigan’s overall craft brewing scene.

In addition to the Microbrew Tasting Cruises, the Tall Ship Manitou offers Moomers Ice Cream Sails – Mondays and Fridays from 3-5pm, through September 2; Wine Tasting Cruises – Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:30-8:30pm, June 28-September 1; and Entertainment Cruises – Wednesdays from 6:30-8:30pm, July 6-August 31.

Multi-day windjammers are held during the fall season including the Astronomy Cruise (September 16-19); Wine Tasting Cruise (September 23-26); and Music Cruise (September 30-October 3).

The Manitou also offers a unique “Floating B&B” experience which includes the evening sail (Tuesday through Saturday), accommodations in bunk-style cabins and breakfast the next morning.

Whether traveling solo, as a couple, with a family or as part of a group, a Tall Ship sail makes a memorable traditional Great Lakes adventure. As one of the largest sailing ships on the Great Lakes, the Manitou is a replica of an 1800s “coasting” cargo schooner. A traditional two-masted, gaff rigged, topsail schooner, Manitou measures 114 feet in length with more than 3000 square feet of sail.

With a 60 passenger sailing capacity (24 overnight capacity), there is plenty of space for sitting and moving around the decks while under sail. While aboard the Manitou, passengers are free to leave the sailing to the experienced crew or lend a hand and learn the arts of the sailor. An excursion aboard the Manitou allows you to remove yourself from the trappings of modern life: no TV, phone (cell phones are discouraged), beeper, email and definitely no itinerary.

To make reservations for any of the 2011 Manitou sailing adventures, call toll free 800-678-0383. Gift certificates are also available.

For additional information about the Manitou, including its corporate charters, log on to (

Reserve GR Food & Wine Bar Welcomes Brandon Joldersma as Sommelier, Manager

Reserve GR has named Brandon Joldersma as its new Sommelier and Manager.

Brandon says his interest in the culinary world was first piqued when he was waiting tables at Alpenrose in Holland.

“I've always loved food, but getting on the other side of the table turned me on to how quality service – as well as a quality product – hugely impact the dining experience and how wine plays an important role in complimenting and enhancing a meal,” says Brandon.

From there, Brandon took on the role of Assistant General Manager and Sommelier at Butch’s Dry Dock, also in Holland. The restaurant, which holds a prestigious “Best of Award of Excellence” ranking from Wine Spectator, (something only 788 restaurants in the country currently have), was where Brandon says he dove head-first into the wine scene.

“As I immersed myself in the restaurant world, my passion for the industry became fully realized,” he says. “I’ve never bothered to come up for air since.”

In addition to his managerial duties at Butch’s, Brandon was in charge of the purchasing, inventory and sales of an 800 bottle retail selection, as well as continuously updating and seasonally developing an 18-bottle pour list and a 120-bottle reserve list.

Brandon now brings his passion and knowledge of wine and the world of culinary experiences to Reserve.

“I am proud to be here at Reserve, amongst people who feel the same as I do about food and wine."

In March of this year, Brandon passed his first level sommelier exam through the Court of Masters. He hopes to be certified in the fall.

Located in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids at 201 Monroe Avenue NW, Reserve offers a world-class menu fully embracing the West Michigan farm-to-table philosophy, paired with over 100 wines available by the glass and 200 wines by the bottle, in an elegant yet casual fine dining setting.