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Road Scholar program offers lifelong learning

July 27, 2011
By KURT HAUGLIE , Houghton Daily Mining Gazette

HOUGHTON - Randy Vlcek had never taken part in the Elder Hostel Road Scholar program, but he saw it as way to get to a part of Michigan he'd never visited.

"I always wanted to go to Isle Royale," he said.

Vlcek and his wife, Laurel, came from the Chicago area to take part in the Road Scholar program and to learn about the Lake Superior region.

Although the program just got started Sunday, Laurel Vlcek said what they heard in the orientation presentation was interesting.

"I think it sounds great," she said.

The program included a talk Sunday by photographers and writers Ann and John Mahan, and Laurel Vlcek said they promised the group would see at least one moose on the island when they visited today.

Ken Vrana, director of the Isle Royale Institute, said Elder Hostel is a lifelong learning program based in Massachusetts. Last year, the company reorganized itself and decided to call the travel portion of the program Road Scholar.

Vrana said he's involved with Road Scholar because the mission of the IRI is to assist the National Park Service with education about Isle Royale and the Great Lakes in general. He administers the program and makes the budgets.

Although the Isle Royale and Great Lakes Road Scholar program provides a certificate of completion to participants, Vrana said some programs around the country provide continuing education credits.

"This is part of a strategy to provide more opportunity for lifelong learning," he said.

Ann Mahan said she and John have been giving talks on the Great Lakes and Isle Royale since 1984, and this is their 16th trip with Elder Hostel.

"(The Road Scholar program) gives people the chance to experience things they wouldn't be able to do on their own," she said.

The couple has been to Isle Royale more than 50 times.

"When we got to 50, we stopped counting," she said.

The talk they gave to the group Sunday was based on one of the couple's books, Mahan said, and the intent was to put Isle Royale in context with Lake Superior.

Mahan said the plan for the program was to take a bus tour of the Keweenaw then take the NPS boat Ranger III to Isle Royale.

Rachelle Bachran is the coordinator of accommodations for the IRI Road Scholar program. That job includes finding places for participants to stay, arranging meals from local providers, and making certain the Ranger III is available to take participants to the island.

Bachran said having the support of local businesses is important for the Road Scholar program.

"We are sending out 20 thank yous at the end of the summer," she said.

Some of the participants come early and some stay late, Bachran said, which gives local businesses another boost.

Bachran said usually 26 people take part in each Road Scholar program.

"We found that's a quality program," she said.

However, Bachran said the the current program has 27 participants from seven states.

Vrana said the Road Scholar program provides about $40,000 to a local economy. The season for the Rock Harbor Lodge on Isle Royale is really just July and August, so having the Road Scholar participants stay there is very helpful for its financial situation.

"It's really an important resource," he said.



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