Rope Tow Breathes New Life into Michigan Town

When Michigan’s Mountain Lions installed a new rope tow, re-opening their Adventure Mountain Ski Hill after a 30-year absence, they tossed a lifeline to their community.

Lion President Michael Laakko says the new rope tow is “a vehicle for hope.” And what better time for renewed hope

snow-covered hill
The Adventure Mountain Skill Hill is back up and running after 30 years, thanks to the enterprising work of local Lions.

than in a pandemic when families need to get out, and kids need fresh air and a safe place to be with friends, but apart.

Like many others in Greenland Township, on the western edge of the Upper Peninsula, Laakko grew up here, where the snowy winters are made for sledding, skiing, and snowboarding.

His club has leased the recreational area from the township for many years, continuing an indoor natural ice rink on the property, and the Lions clubhouse, also known as the chalet, where concessions are ready and windows offer a view of the action on the slope. But when the rope tow went down in 1990, winter entertainment went with it.

For more than 30 years, despite numerous efforts, life just kept getting in the way of fixing it.

Lions members check out rope tow
Lions Mike Laakko and Rick Saari help maintain the new facilities at the now bustling rec area.

The economy in the rural area was suffering as the copper mine and the local paper mill closed. There was the Father’s Day Flood in nearby Houghton that affected the entire area. And rope tows are expensive. The small township, population about 800 with a preponderance of seniors, relies on the support of schools, agriculture, and the logging industry.

But do Lions give up? Neither did the people they serve.

With community support and the paperwork and knowledge of engineer and Lion secretary Dean Juntunen, the club was awarded a recreation passport grant for US$45,000 from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, but they had to raise more than US$30,000 to secure it. Another grant from the local Portage Health Foundation took care of US$22,800, and Lion Kip McIntyre donated another US$10,000 in honor of his mother.

Final cost: Roughly US$80,000 for the rope tow, new towers, and a new electric motor to replace the one from 1905.

McIntyre, whose family also donated the lights for nighttime activity, says his whole family grew up in the area. He wanted to give back.

“We’re losing so much in this area, I felt we needed something to get the kids outside doing something,” he told reporters when the project was completed.  “That hill did it for me and a lot of people older than me.”

Community leaders hail it as a great team effort. Now that the updated hill has breathed new life into the town, a group of Lions work hard to keep it going strong.

Lions with CPR certification are always on the property when it’s open. Lions run the concessions. Lion Fred Barron takes on the big task of laying the ice for the rink. Juntunen, who was paralyzed after breaking his back in an accident, attends to the ski hill with his snowmobile, a snow groomer attached, at least once or twice a week. Laakko, a retired Lutheran pastor who spends about 10 hours a week at the hill, says Juntunen’s volunteer job can take six hours. Good thing he likes to snowmobile.

Snowmobile trails run throughout the area as well as hiking trails where Laakko and others like to snowshoe, and where people enjoy biking in the warmer months. The county fair happens on the same land for two weeks every summer. Now with the hill open through winter, it’s a scene of year-round adventure.

“Winter can be inconvenient,” says Juntenen. “It’s nice to have a chance to play in it.”