Living in the Upper Peninsula certainly is a unique experience, equipped with a culture much different from the Lower Peninsula. Though Yoopers are sometimes stereotyped as “hicks” and “rednecks,” there is more personality that some bloggers and website owners are looking to emphasize in their creative endeavors. Their efforts include a blog about the things people don’t typically know about the U.P., T-shirt sales, and a blog discovering mining sites that have become overgrown and forgotten throughout the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Justin “Bugsy” Sailor believes in the “Steez” of the Upper Peninsula. That is, style with ease. His blog and T-shirt company, called Yooper Steez, look to provide a unique look at the U.P., interesting information that is often overlooked and bringing together the people who love this peninsula from around the world.
“So many people grew up in the U.P., they go to Tech, or they go to Northern, and then they move away,” said Sailor. “I’ve been blown away by how many Yoopers I’ve been in touch with who live all across the United States or across the world. That’s really what I find to be the most exciting part of (Yooper Steez).”
Sailor lives in Lansing now working for a design company, but he grew up in Baraga, which is where his love for the U.P. comes from. He remembers snowshoeing around Canyon Falls as he grew up and snowboarding at Marquette and Ripley mountains. He attended Michigan State University and then went on a road trip for a year in which he visited all 50 states. On his trip, he talked to many people about the Upper Peninsula.
“People were asking where I was from, and saying, ‘Oh, I haven’t heard of the U.P.’ (and) ‘What’s that like?’” Sailor said. “So that’s really a big portion of (Yooper Steez), just the educational factor … Teaching people what a pasty is or how big Lake Superior really is.”
The Yooper Steez blog has been around since February 2008. The blog includes regular blog posts on a variety of topics, but also a number of interesting facts, a history and news stories all about the Upper Peninsula. He said that he’s lucky that his blog has grown in popularity because people now send him unique information about the U.P. that might not be found elsewhere on the Internet.
Because of the blog and T-shirt company, Sailor said that he has been provided a number of unique opportunities in the Upper Peninsula that only add to his love of the area.
“I’ll never forget the day I got to go to the very top of the Mackinac Bridge. It was incredible and such a unique opportunity,” Sailor said. “The U.P. has really just got those little touches of home for me.”
Another major division of Yooper Steez is the T-shirt company. Sailor has a number of T-shirts and sweatshirts that simply have the outline of the Upper Peninsula on the front. Sales have been so successful, he said, that oftentimes he has a hard time keeping up with demand.
“There are so few places in the country that have such a defined outline,” Sailor said. “There’s such a strong identity associated with such a defined region … You can’t take a chunk of Colorado and know where that is; that could be anywhere.”
Sailor believes that the simple design is effective because it is understood by anyone who knows or associates with the Upper Peninsula throughout the world. He also said that his shirts are different from what’s expected out of stereotypical U.P. apparel.
“I wanted to avoid the stereotypes because there are a million U.P. T-shirts, but I don’t want one with a buck and a fish and a trout, (and) ‘Say yah to dah U.P.’ and a farting joke,” Sailor said. “Those are fine, but I think there’s something in terms of something really simple that you know (people will) buy when they move out of state to represent a piece of their life.”
The Yooper Steez blog and shirt company can be found online at www.yoopersteez.com. T-shirts are typically $18 and sweatshirts $36.
Jeremy Symons, owner and lead designer of Yooper Shirts, has always wanted to design apparel.
“It’s like a walking canvas, you know? That’s what I think is the beauty of it,” Symons said. “Some designs you get, like a poster or something like that, it’s only seen for a short time or in certain locations, but (with this) a person’s wearing it. They show a lot of pride in wearing a shirt coming from where they’re born or where they live. It makes them proud to show this design and wear it proudly.”
Yooper Shirts features 13 different unique designs in a variety of colors, all designed by Symons. He said that he tries to take a new approach the U.P. shirt.
“The U.P. always has these funny shirts that are cracking jokes at Yoopers because, you know, we’re supposedly a bunch of hicks or a bunch of rednecks and we’re all about hunting and all that stuff,” Symons said. “I kind of wanted to come with a modern approach, you know. We’re more than that.”
Yooper Shirts started in December and has been more successful than Symons anticipated. Essentially, Shirts is an extension of Symons’ business Graphics by Designers that designs many things including websites, logos, business cards and posters. He said that Yooper Shirts was originally just a fun project but it has begun taking up more of his time, which he loves. He prints the shirts in the Upper Peninsula and takes orders and designs everything himself.
The most popular design is called Yooper Icon and features a silhouette of the Upper Peninsula with images of U.P. characteristics, like a bear and fish, making up the silhouette. “This is made up of all these little icons that reflect what the U.P. is all about,” Symons said. “I think what’s so cool about that shirt is that from a distance it looks like the silhouette and when you get closer there’s so much more to it.”
Symons grew up in Ishpeming and said that though in the past he has moved and lived elsewhere, he has always come back to live.
“The U.P. is unique. There really isn’t many places like it,” Symons said. “I always ended up coming back here because I feel safe and it’s beautiful.”
Symons T-shirts are for sale at yoopershirts.com and range in price from $12 to $20.
Copper Country Explorers
What to many people are forgotten ruins, Mike Forgrave, writer and creator of the blog Copper Country Explorer, considers treasure. He starts his explorations in the U.P. woods, discovering former mine sites throughout the region, and when he’s there, takes anywhere between 200 and 300 pictures. Explorations such as this are divided into a number of blog posts, each based on a specific part of the ruin he found. Forgrave spends about an hour doing research on what he explored and two hours writing the post. He tries to post five days a week.
“It’s amazing to me when I can find the massive ruins of an old mine hiding out deep within the woods, far from where most other people have gone. There’s a special mystery about the Copper Country that draws you in,” Forgrave said. “It’s … almost like you’re looking out across a landscape forgotten by both man and time. Seeing the remains of a building that was built over a century ago and thinking of those men who built it and then toiled inside it sort of puts you and your life into perspective.”
Forgrave has been blogging since the summer of 2006 and has posted approximately 655 times with over 10,000 photos total. He said that he started the blog because of his immense love for the area and his background in communications, a degree he got from Tech. Though originally from the Lansing area, Forgrave said that he decided to do what he could to stay in the U.P. after he graduated. He has an alternative full-time job to help him survive financially and tries to get ahead in his explorations when he has time off. He also runs the tourism blog Keweenaw Free Guide.
Though the blog certainly takes up a significant amount of time, Forgrave said it’s not hard to remember why he loves the experiences.
“Discovering new ruins out in the deep recesses of the forests also bring out the kid in me, that sense of awe and excitement you really only felt about things when you were younger,” Forgrave said. “I also love connecting with other people who share the same interests as me. I’ve met a lot of people through the blog that I now consider good friends.”
Forgrave said that he has two types of readers. The first is older people who might have moved away from the area but lived in the U.P. when some of these mines were still operating.
“For them, my blog is a way to reconnect to this special place, as well as their youth,” Forgrave said. “It’s a way of continuing to enjoy all this area has to offer while stuck hundreds of miles away.”
The other group is younger people, oftentimes Tech students, who are interested in the history of these ruins, the way Forgrave was when he was a student. Forgrave finds that these people are exploring many of the places that he is, and they forward some of their pictures and experiences to the blog.
“I think they enjoy sharing their experience with other people who love the area as they do,” Forgrave said.
Forgrave believes the Upper Peninsula has a voice of its own and hopes that all people who live here will try to experience it for themselves, in their own way.
“I think the UP is a place you have to discover for yourself, you have to find what part of it you like on your own,” Forgrave said. “But I would say that it’s important to take the time to explore off the beaten path. There’s a lot of history to this region and if you go out looking for it, you may be surprised at all you can find.”