Upper Michigan Residents Annoyed About Being Forgotten

DETROIT (AP) — They’re amused. They’re annoyed. Or they just don’t care.

These are pretty much how folks in the Upper Peninsula react to being ignored.

Everyone knows the Mitten is Michigan. Everyone jokes you can tell who hails from Michigan when they hold up their left hand and point to their city of residence. But the land mass above the Mitten is often identified as a piece of Wisconsin, a piece of Canada or just left off the map completely.

In late April, the U.S. Census Bureau released a map of states losing seats in Congress based on shrinking population and omitted the Upper Peninsula when highlighting Michigan on the map.

In a place like Bolinas, California. just outside San Francisco, locals are known to take down public road signs to keep tourists from finding the place.

But anonymity isn’t by choice for the U.P.

So what’s it like to live in a place that so often gets overlooked?

Stephanie Jones, 53, a real estate agent from Marquette, is a member of the Pearce family, locals who have been involved in banking and real estate since the 1900s.

“I think there is an absolute ignorance when it comes to anything over the (Mackinac) bridge,” she told the Detroit Free Press. ” ‘Up North’ is not Gaylord. You have to cross the bridge, and then you are truly able to breathe.”

People have asked Jones if the U.P. had electricity or if people still used outhouses. The whole lack of knowledge makes her crazy.

Being left off maps “shows a cartography ignorance that’s unacceptable,” she said. “No one puts the panhandle of Florida in Alabama. And yet we get lumped with Wisconsin and Canada.”

The U.P. is Canada-lite: All the snowfall and none of the health care coverage, Jones said. There is definitely a split between people annoyed by being left off lists and those who don’t want people coming anyway, she said.

“Then there are the rest of us who are morally offended that you could forget geographically a large portion of the state,” Jones said. “Did you know that of all the waterfalls in Michigan, only one is below the bridge? We have beautiful waterfalls.”

Even “Saturday Night Live” omitted the U.P. from its map. TV news does it often, too.

Wisconsin doesn’t forget the Upper Peninsula. There are so many Green Bay Packers fans in the U.P., maybe even more than Detroit Lions fans.

“The Lions fans get all defensive,” Jones said. “But we have more season ticket holders in Marquette for the Packers. They’re only three hours away.”

Meanwhile, it’s 455 miles, or a nearly seven-hour drive, to the Motor City.

Ishpeming Mayor Lindsay Bean, 41, works in communications at Eagle Mine, which produces high grade nickel and copper, and wonders how people can keep jobs when they make so many mistakes, then no one all the way down the line catches errors.

“I mean, who’s making these maps? They paid somebody to make them and they’re wrong. These are big companies. I’d be mortified if I had a hand in that,” she said.

And even residents who live in the Mitten get it wrong. Perhaps that’s one reason why they’re called “trolls,” because they live beneath the Mackinac Bridge.

“You have plenty of woods and rural areas downstate. But it’s just not the same,” said Bean, whose city is 15 miles southwest of Marquette. “It’s a little more wild here. People complain about the mosquitos and the cold. And we’re like, ‘Good, stay away.’ It takes a heartier soul to live here.”

Yoopers feel great pride in their land and rarely use the Mitten as a reference point.

“If you use both hands, you can do the whole state. You hold your hand horizontally and you can show where you live in the U.P. Sometimes you need the first hand for the lower peninsula to make the second hand make sense,” Bean said. “We have keychains shaped like the U.P that doesn’t have the Mitten.”

She added, “I don’t see myself moving and I certainly wouldn’t move to the lower peninsula.”

Eric Waara, 52, Houghton city manager, remembers when a geography bee competition was held downstate and a photo of the event sign was run in the local paper showing the sign with just the Mitten.

Remote is one thing, invisible is another.

“We’re kind of used to it,” Waara said. “But you wonder, are there other places, say up in Washington or British Columbia, that get it, too? Colorado has got it easy. There’s not much to lose. It’s a square every time.”

While the Houghton area is remote, 100 miles northwest of Marquette, it’s a real place with a world-class university in a downtown that’s wired with fiber for a really good internet connection. But every time Waara’s family sees a T-Mobile or Verizon coverage map, they check to see if the U.P. is missing. Yet a company spun off from Michigan Tech University that makes satellite thrusters is headquartered in Houghton, and top physicists are recruited with the promise of mountain biking and kayaking at lunchtime.

“Looking out my window, I can still see snow on the hill. And the buds are popping on the trees, too,” Waara said. “This is a place where people go on vacation and we all get to live here.”

Andy Langlois, 49, co-owner of Blackrocks Brewery in Marquette who lists “brewsician” on his business card, compared the Upper Peninsula to classic vinyl.

“If Michigan was an album, the U.P. would be on the ‘B’ side. But like any album, there are gems to be discovered in the ‘B’ side. Just because it didn’t make the Top 40 doesn’t mean it’s not awesome,” he said.

“I’m not going to get all upset if people don’t know their geography,” Langlois said. “There are places I’m sure I’m not aware exist, that I wouldn’t be able to draw on a map.”

But the place is unlike anywhere else, and once you know it, you never forget.

“There’s quite a power that draws you, from Lake Superior. There’s the beauty of it — and it’s pristine, it’s large, it’s cold, it’s dangerous and it’s calming. It affects people in different ways,” Langlois said. “To have a body of water that large just down the street, it’s like a coastal town on the ocean. I think Marquette is truly a harbor town. The vibe in the U.P. with its beaches and trails, it’s like an island up here. It just seems a little more chill and relaxed.”

The rugged surroundings and the four distinct seasons reflect the character of the people, he said. “It’s become common to see the U.P. left off the map. Most just seem to take it in stride.”

In 2018, the events website TickPick — a StubHub competitor — left the U.P. off an interactive website and its CEO flew from New York to Detroit and then Escanaba to apologize personally and buy a round of drinks for everyone at Blackrocks.

Mayor Marc Tall, 73, of Escanaba, is a little hurt when people forget about the U.P.

“I’m offended you’ve forgotten an important part of our state. It happens to us not once in a blue moon. It happens so frequently that there’s no excuse. It’s just careless and thoughtless, and I wish it would stop. It would be like losing the whole state of Michigan on a map. It think we’d all be offended,” he said.

“If it isn’t happening to you, you don’t have the same reaction,” Tall said. “Who likes being ignored?”

When people ask where he lives, he usually says, “a couple hours north of Green Bay.” Because everybody has heard of the Green Bay Packers football team. “And it’s the largest city near us. If you go up the shoreline, that’s where we are.”

After 40 years in town, the radio advertising salesman wishes the area wasn’t left out of so many travel brochures. His city is 66 miles south of Marquette.

“It’s such a pretty place,” he said. “We’d be happy to share it with people.”

Mayor Jenna Smith, 34, of Marquette, said a lot of people fail to see humor in being ignored but it makes her smile and shake her head.

As a native of the U.P. who works in human resources for the school district, she sees the region as “just a different place than the rest of the world.”′

While Marquette is a city, just 10 minutes away is the middle of the forest.

“Even in the city, we’ve got forest land,” Smith said.

“People up here, you work to live, you don’t live to work. You make sure you get your job done and go hit the trails or go ride your bike or cross-country ski. We don’t have to go on vacation to do that. We go down to the beach and watch the sunrise in the morning. You can’t do that in a lot of places without massive crowds or paying a lot of money.”

David Ollila, 51, is an entrepreneur from Marquette whose great grandfather started with a produce cart in the small town of Watton in the U.P. That cart expanded into a general store with a gas station in Ishpeming. Ollila’s father later ran IGA franchise stores in Marquette and Ishpeming.

Now, Ollila is on a mission to spread the gospel of the value of the U.P. to the rest of the state and America.

This map thing is about people with history and value who want to be seen, he said.

Getting left out means not having a voice. And that means being forgotten.

“All I can think is, ‘Are you kidding? You didn’t go to fifth grade geography? Whether it’s Jeep or Mountain Dew or the U.S. census, it goes on and on. That’s people being lazy when they look up the state, seeing a mitten and that’s going to be good enough,” Ollila said. “I mean, we live in a world where no one knows chickens come with bones anymore.”

Consumers Energy recently ran a map of electric vehicle charging stations and left off the Upper Peninsula completely, despite having networks in Marquette, Norway and L’Anse, he said.

“Consumers does not own the U.P. network, but there is no reason to turn around at the (Mackinac) bridge,” Ollila said.

Being acknowledged as a region every once in a while or partially — when the whole Upper Peninsula doesn’t fit on the page the way it happens to be designed, is “giving me the feeling the U.P. is like Patrick Swayze in ‘Ghost,’ simply fading away and soon to be irrelevant,” Ollila said.