Maple syrup season; Mackinac Island’s quiet, snowy season; musician Dominic Fortuna … here’s what our editors at Traverse Northern Michigan are obsessed with this month.

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Lissa’s March Swoon: Dominic Fortuna

Dominic Fortuna has toured with Barry Manilow. He played Vince Fontaine in the Broadway production of “Grease” and Frank Abagnale, Sr., in the Broadway tour of “Catch Me if you Can.” And that’s just a smattering of his résumé. His scope of voice styles and ranges seems endless. He’s a national talent, but Fortuna is home-grown (he grew up in Torch Lake where his parents had a restaurant) and as down to earth as your next-door neighborhood. So, when I saw he was playing small venues around Northern Michigan, I emailed him to see if my tiny Glen Arbor Wines was too small for his big entertaining. Within hours Fortuna emailed back with a date in February he could make it.

 Dominic Fortuna

Photo by Lissa Edwards

On that wintery evening, Dom (he says that’s what his dad called him, and I think it’s such a great nickname), drove two hours from his home in Bellaire—leaving just as his sons’ won their hockey game. I was worried he wouldn’t think it was worth it … but without a flinch (even from the fact that he’d been bitten by a dog the day before!) Dom carted in his equipment like a seasoned roadie, took one look at the audience demographic, and dove into a non-stop two hours of ’70s and ’80s classic rock tunes that had us dancing like we hadn’t since middle school. He only broke the rhythm to tell some quick stories from his career—and to flash that Dom smile. By the end of the evening we were all swooning over Dom. And if he didn’t get a kick out of us, then he’s a better actor than even Broadway says he is.

Catch Dominic Fortuna in Northern Michigan!
Check out Fortuna’s website to see where he’s playing—although he confesses he doesn’t always keep it up to date. Better idea: keep your ear to the ground—he plays venues small and large all across Northern Michigan. When you hear he’s playing, drop everything and go. A couple gigs I do know for sure: Dominic Fortuna is returning to Glen Arbor Wines this summer to play outside on Saturday, May 27, from 7 to 9 p.m. and Saturday, July 8, from 7 to 9 p.m. Be there or be square.

Emily’s Swooning Over: March’s Sweetest Elixir

Spring is now on tap, pure Michigan maple syrup fans! We’re coming into a glorious stretch of below-freezing nights plus warm, sunny days that will get this year’s maple tree sap flowing. I’m cheering on the tree-tapping, sap-transporting, fire-stoking hard work of maple syrup makers across Northern Michigan who are transforming tree sap into luscious amber-hued maple syrup. (For real: 40 gallons of sap must be harvested and boiled down to create one gallon of syrup.)

This pretty bottle came from Michigan Maple Farms in Rudyard, where owner Mike Ross’s tree tapping hobby kindled in the 1980s and has since grown into a generational business. The Ross family also sells maple-making equipment for people who want to try it at home. (Check out this video of my delightfully industrious friend Jodi Simpson, who makes a few precious quarts each March by tapping the giant trees in her downtown Traverse City backyard.)

Local maple syrup

Photo by Emily Tyra

Maple syrup is my secret ingredient for pretty much every dish under the sun … mixed with garlic, olive oil, Dijon and lemon juice for my fave salad dressing; stirred into rhubarb BBQ sauce; whipped into cream cheese frosting; added sparingly to balance a spicy Thai red curry. This go-to recipe makes a batch of maple-glazed nuts with a beguilingly deep flavor thanks to the warming cardamom and piney rosemary.

Spiced Maple-Glazed Nuts Recipe

Nibble on these with a cup of tea, throw them on a salad with juicy blueberries and mellow goat cheese, or serve by the dishful at a cocktail hour with people you really like.

Maple glazed nuts in a bowl

Photo by Emily Tyra

• 2 Tablespoons melted butter
• 2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
• 2 teaspoons cardamom
• 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 1/4 teaspoon paprika
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 3 cups raw, unsalted pecans
• 3 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
• Zest of one medium orange

Directions | Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix butter, syrup, spices and salt in a medium bowl. Add pecans and mix well to coat. On a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet, spread nuts in an even layer and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle fresh rosemary and orange zest over the hot nuts. Allow to cool and store in an airtight container.

Maple glazed nuts on baking sheet

Photo by Emily Tyra

Allison’s March Swoon: Wildlife-Rich Vernal Pools

With peeks of blue sky and sunshine, it’s hard not to dream of the warm spring days that lie ahead of us. March is the perfect time for spring prepping—planning your garden, tuning up the bikes, picking your first rockhounding destination.

Across the state, nature organizations are doing their own prepping this month, training citizen scientists to help them monitor spring’s emerging wildlife—from nesting birds to peeping frogs. Personally, I’m excited to try my hand at monitoring vernal pools, dubbed the “coral reefs of Northern forests.” After the April thaw, small temporary ponds form, but they’re much more than meets the eye—these wetlands act as critical habitat for species that rely on fishless, predator-free ponds to survive, such as spotted salamanders, blue-spotted salamanders, fairy shrimp and wood frogs. The problem? Vernal pools are vulnerable and not well-protected under current state and federal laws.

Yellow spotted salamander

Photo by Michelle Herman

Blue Spotted salamander

Photo by John P. Clare

The Michigan Vernal Pools Partnership is hosting free virtual Zoom training sessions this month for anyone interested in joining the statewide Vernal Pool Patrol, which involves mapping and collecting data on local vernal ponds this spring. (Those registered will have access to the session recordings, so you can watch at a different time.) Organizers hope that with additional monitoring and data each year, we can work toward better protections for these ecologically significant habitats.

Training dates are:
• March 15, 6 to 8 p.m. – Introduction to Vernal Pools
• March 22, 6 to 8 p.m. – Vernal Pool Ecology
• March 29, 6 to 8 p.m. – Vernal Pool Monitoring

For more information on the program, check out the Michigan Vernal Pools Partnership website, or follow along on Facebook. See ya out there!

Wood frog

Photo by Michigan DNR

Carly is Swooning Over: Mission Point Resort’s Renovations

Spending a winter weekend on Mackinac Island has been on my Michigan travel bucket list for years. And this February, thanks to an invite from Mission Point Resort, I got to experience the isle’s snowy side (along with an -11 windchill; wavy, aka very fun, ferry ride; and the most incredible sunrise of my life—it brought me to tears. Tears!)

While Mission Point Resort is closed for the winter, their team is busy putting the final touches on several major projects, and the MyNorth crew got a behind-the-scenes tour during our stay:

First, Round Island Kitchen. The large fireplace has been removed, opening up a panoramic view of The Straits, passing freighters and neighboring Round Island, and a new circular bar is going to offer some of the best happy hour seats on the island, taking full advantage of that now-unobstructed vista. The team is freshening up the color scheme with brighter colors, pulling blues from the water right out front.

Next up, the resort’s Main Lodge lobby. A gorgeous new front desk has been made with stones from the island. (Director of Engineering Stan The Man Antkoviak even let us place a few while showing us around. Photos below!) The desk’s design was inspired by the rock walls of Fort Mackinac, Ste. Anne’s Cemetery and both the east and west bluffs. There will also be several living room–esque spaces tucked throughout the lobby, with couches, chairs, board games and puzzles. After a day spent exploring the island, the lobby is a friendly, ‘Welcome back.’

Photo by Allison Jarrell

Photo by Allison Jarrell

Photo by Allison Jarrell

Psst! The resort opens for the 2023 season on April 28. While writing this Swoon I noticed they’ve got a pre-season package available from April 28 to May 11. Check it out if you’re thinking about a spring visit to the island.

Now, here are a few of my favorite moments (and photos!) from our winter visit including… sunrise, on the “Sunrise Side” of Mackinac Island, hiking to Arch Rock (it felt like being inside a snow globe!) and the flight back to St. Ignace. There was too much ice for the ferry to get to the island, so Fresh Air Aviation picked us up. (Those year-round residents on Mackinac Island are a hearty bunch. Transportation, and getting supplies, off or onto the island, is never guaranteed.)

Photo(s) by Carly Simpson