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Walk on the snow and back in time

Pictured is a joint meeting of the Ishpeming and Marquette Snowshoe clubs at the Ishpeming Clubhouse on March 1, 1889. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — Taking a step in a snowshoe is like taking a step back in time. Along with the wheel, snowshoes are one of the oldest inventions. Imagine life without the creation of snowshoes; much of our northern landscape would have been left unexplored.

Our ancestors relied heavily on snowshoes for survival; especially for activities like trapping, hunting, and exploring. Still made today, snowshoes have changed dramatically in their construction and desired uses.

Because of Marquette’s heavy snow fall in the winter months, snowshoeing was common for travel and recreation. In 1868 a snowshoe club was created at the Cleveland Mine in Ishpeming to travel and help pass the cold winter months. As the sport gained popularity more clubs were organized, including women’s clubs.

The clubs would spend their days recreating and at night throw parties at their clubhouse where members socialized and entertained.

Sounds fun right? Particularly popular in the 1880s and 1890s, the clubs went on for several decades. Even after they died out, the need for snowshoes continued in the area.

About 53 miles east of Marquette is the little town of Shingleton, Michigan, home to a man named Clarence Iverson. Working as a corrections officer in a prison, Clarence supervised some of the prisoners making snowshoes. By the 1950s Iverson started creating his own snowshoes as a hobby.

Once his reputation spread around the state, he began to make snowshoes for loggers and foresters. “Iverson’s snowshoes are handmade with wood from logs that have been cut in nearby forests” as Bob Graves, co-owner of Iverson’s says. Today, Iverson’s Snowshoe Company is still in business and you may still see Iverson’s Snowshoes around Marquette.

What started off as a more traditional approach using white ash trees found in northern forests for the base and rawhide for straps, began to shift to a more modern design.

Companies started to make aluminum frames and plastic straps which eventually evolved to the snowshoes that we see today. However, traditional snowshoes represent a part of the past, which many still prefer.

Over the years, snowshoeing has become a part of the Marquette culture. Some people experience a sense of solitude or tranquility when hiking through the snow, others see it as a means of competition such as snowshoe races. Whether you own a pair of Iverson’s Snowshoes or you’ve never stepped foot in one, snowshoeing is the perfect opportunity to explore what a Marquette winter has to offer.

Join us Wednesday, at 6 p.m. Jan. 13 at Presque Isle Park for A Walk on the Snow and Back in Time, a snowshoe hike with Dr. Jacquie Medina, professor of Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Management.

We will hike in waves of eight people to limit group size, each with a group leader. Please adhere to social distancing and wear a mask when gathering.

All snowshoe ability levels welcome for this casual outing meant to celebrate recreation in the snow. The cost is $15 a person. Register ahead at the history center or by calling 906-226-3571.

Participants will meet near the Presque Isle main pavilion. Please dress for the outdoor hike, bring snowshoes and head lamp or light as it will get dark during this ninety minute hike

This program supports the history center and is part of our 2020 Great Outdoors Series, with support from the Michigan Humanities Council.

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