City of Ishpeming, where winter is fun! | News, Sports, Jobs

City of Ishpeming, where winter is fun! | News, Sports, Jobs

A group of sleigh riders in Ishpeming enjoying a ride. The photo is undated. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

ISHPEMING – Synchronizes the “Lake Placid in the Midwest”, Ishpeming became a winter sports center in the 1930’s and was known as such in Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit and other metropolitan areas. In 1936, a five-day winter carnival was held there. Events included skiing, ice skating, hockey, ski jumping, basketball games, a children’s parade, an ice masquerade, a snow modeling competition, and bobsleigh and luge slides at Lake Bancroft.

Eight boxing matches were held at the Adelphi Ice Rink in Negaunee. Miss Irene Koski was crowned Frolics Queen in a ceremony atop a giant, two-story ice throne lit by colored lights. A coronation ball followed.

In the fall of 1937, the Ishpeming Industrial Association approved the formation of the Ishpeming Winter Sports Club to promote a winter sports center. It was decided to turn the carnival program into a year-round activity.

The Winter Sports Club sponsored a carnival of the north which featured a Queen of the North contest in 1938. The participants came from eleven cities. Miss Vera Rust of the Soo was crowned Queen by Governor Frank Murphy, who attended the event.

By 1939, Ishpeming was recognized as a pioneering winter sports town on the peninsula, and the set “Ishpeming, where winter is fun” was minted. Ishpeming Ski Club and Winter Sports Club have worked hard to make this phrase a fact. A ski tournament, a Queen of the North contest and an ice revue were planned.

The first tri-state winter sports conference was held at the Mather Inn and was attended by 130 enthusiasts from Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. At that all-day session, Chicago & Northwestern Railroad President Fred Sargent said: “The day will come when places with ski resorts and the necessary facilities will get almost as big a winter vacation business as they do in the summer.”

The winter sports club acquired around 200 hectares for a new sports playground. A large area near Teal Lake has been cleared. Without a dime of capital, club members secured the collaboration of hundreds of people who donated services or materials. A clubhouse was built for less than $2,000; Carpenters donated their time and a mason built the chimney. Women organized a bake sale in the community for the benefit of the association. A member campaign brought in further donations.

Volunteers brushed and widened paths. Much of the work was done by WPA members. Slopes were cleared and a slalom area created. The new park featured three drag lifts and two ski jumps, the Teal Lake Ski Hill, which allowed jumps of 75 feet, and the 110-foot Baby Lake Ski Hill. A 1,200-foot toboggan slide with speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour and two cardboard slides with rides of about 75 feet were built and brightly lit. There were four ski runs totaling 38 miles.

A summer playground was also established and had picnic areas, areas for baseball and other sports, playground equipment, an amphitheater for community programs, and barbecue areas. To introduce people to the area, the sports club organized a barbecue; 1,000 pounds of beans were baked in pits and 500 pounds of beef were grilled. Over 5,000 people attended and the club made $1,000 in profits.

Albrecht E “Al” Quaal was instrumental in establishing the recreation area, which was then named after him. Born in Ishpeming on November 9, 1883, Al worked in paper mills in Munising and Canada for 30 years before returning to Ishpeming. Known as “Mr. Winter Sports in Upper Michigan”, He continued to develop the Al Quaal recreation area until 1942, when it came under the jurisdiction of the City of Ishpeming. Quaal was then appointed director of recreation, a role he served until his retirement in 1958. Al died on December 17, 1964, aged 81.

The Al Quaal Recreation Area continued to thrive, but by the late 1970’s the toboggan slide had fallen into disrepair. In 1988, the slide was reconstructed for about $3,500; Many people remembered how “fast and exciting” it was when they were children. The area was surveyed and 1,200 feet of 1-inch water mains and fourteen mains were installed.

City officials set up a horseshoe frame (the shape kept the sleds on track) and shoveled snow into it. The work was done in 12-foot increments and each section was irrigated to create ice. Overzealous kids who destroyed part of the runway before it could freeze over were not popular with the men who packed snow into sections eight hours a day.

Over 150 people came when the toboggan run reopened. Steel toboggans propelled riders down the icy slopes at speeds of 40 to 80 miles per hour. The chute extended in a straight line for about 800 feet before turning around the west end of Teal Lake. The recreation area is still a popular spot for those enjoying the outdoors today, although the popular tube slide is only open on one day, January 15, this season due to the city’s inability to find enough part-time workers.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This work was adapted from “Winter 2004 Harlow’s Holzmann.”

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