Natives of the Upper Peninsula have a strong regional identity. This is one reason the name "Yooper" caught on so quickly. This strong feeling of belonging to a place has resulted in several proposals over the years to make it a separate state.
The idea was to create a 51st State of Superior. It never caught on because the U.P. has very little political clout in the bigger lower peninsula of Michigan where the laws are made.
Political clout is based on numbers. While the Upper Peninsula has 29% of the land area of Michigan, it only has 3% of the state's total population.
The City of Detroit has twice as many people than the entire Upper Peninsula. The politicians favor helping out places with the most votes.
A century ago the Upper Peninsula had a population that was about 10% of the state's total and created a lot of wealth. Today it shares Michigan's 1st Congressional District with 16 other counties in the northern part of lower Michigan who don't have a lot in common with the U.P.
Many Yoopers like to refer to people who live in downstate Michigan as "fudgies" or "trolls". The fudgie reference is about Mackinac Island where fudge is made for the tourists and where the Upper Peninsula ends and the Lower Peninsula begins.
The troll thing is because Lower Michiganders live below the bridge, in this case the Mackinac Bridge that connects the two Michigan peninsulas.
MACKINAC ISLAND is a resort destination on northern Lake Huron between Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas. It can only be reached by plane or boat. Ferry service runs from both peninsulas to the island. Fort Mackinac was founded in 1780 and is among many things you can enjoy on the island. The Grand Hotel is one of the largest and most historic hotels in the country.
Michiganders pronounce its name MACK-IN-AWE.
The small town on the northern lower peninsula near the Mackinac Bridge just goes ahead and spells itself MACKINAW CITY. Problem solved.
Both of these names derive from MICHILIMACKINAC, the name the early Native Americans gave to the entire area.
The largest city by population is Marquette, on the shore of Lake Superior. It is home to Northern Michigan University.
Sault Ste. Marie - The Soo - is next and is where the famous Soo Locks are located that facilitates ship transportation from Lake Superior to the lower Great Lakes.
The Edmund Fitzgerald was on Lake Superior heading for The Soo when it got caught in a storm and sank in November 1975. The Canadian songwriter and singer Gordon Lightfoot memorialized it in his classic "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."
"The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy ...."
Other cities in addition to Marquette and the Soo include Escanaba, Menominee, Houghton, Hancock, and Iron Mountain.
We have a list of the "major" cities in the Upper Peninsula on a separate page of this website.
The Upper Peninsula is heavily forested with trees grown back after the frantic lumber boom of the 19th and 20th centuries. You can drive for miles through state and national forests and rarely see another car.
The Hiawatha National Forest in the central part of the U.P. has 894,836 acres. The Ottawa National Forest in the western U.P. has 993,010 acres. There are also numerous state forests located all over the Upper Peninsula.
The Upper Peninsula offers a friendly home to an amazing amount of wildlife.
You may see elk, deer, moose, wolves, coyotes, foxes, bears, bobcats, eagles, hawks, owls, and just about any other kind of small animal that can survive the severe winters.
Yoopers are not the only ones who love the Upper Peninsula. Plenty of little critters are also fond of the place, especially mosquitoes, black flies,and deer flies in the spring and summer months.
In the southern U.P. down near Menominee they sometimes have swarms of lake flies also known as Green Bay Flies. They don't bite, but can make a mess of your car.
As a result of the Upper Peninsula being surrounded by Lake Superior on one side and Lake Michigan on the other, heavy snowfall is a fact of life.
The Upper Peninsula has more than 300 waterfalls that get fed by the melting snow in spring and rain in summer. Most are small falls, and almost all require you to take a pretty good hike to see them.
Tahquamenon Falls is probably the most beautiful and most photographed waterfall in the Upper Peninsula.
This is not good farming country because of the soil types, short growing season, and long distances to major markets. A farmer has to work very hard to make a living, but a fair number of them do.
Many of the hardworking farm boys become stars on their local high school football and basketball teams. They do not have to work hard to get in shape; they already are.
Autumn in the Upper Peninsula is an amazing array of colors even more spectacular than those you might see in the Smoky Mountains or Vermont.
The leaves start changing early up here and leaf peepers have to keep alert as to the timing of each particular year.
Deer hunting season in the Upper Peninsula is a rite of passage for many young boys who learn the art from their fathers.
A visitor to the U.P. might hear somebody refer to a "turdy poiner." He will learn it's not a potty mouth term. It simply means a "thirty pointer" which is a deer with a mighty big rack of horns.
A humorous look at the hunting culture is in Jeff Daniel's play written in 2001, "Escanaba in da Moonlight."
It was also made into a film of the same name.
Some references made in the film are alien to anybody not familiar with the Upper Peninsula and Yooper terms.
Some examples are pasties, Leinenkugel Beer, Mackinac Island Fudge, the Superior State, Pictured Rocks National Seashore, euchre (a card game) and M-35, a popular road from Menominee to Escanaba along the shore of Green Bay.
Another example of what Yoopers love about autumn is the beginning of football season. It is an important sport at almost all high schools.
Most Yoopers are fans of the Green Bay Packers and consider their home land to be part of "Packer Land."
My football coach at Menominee High School was Ken Radick. He went to Marquette University and played for the Packers in the 1930s.
Ken Radick is on the first row second from the left.
Yooper's love for the Packers can be fanatic, which is why they call them fans.
I heard a story a couple of years ago about a fan who died of a heart attack while in Lambeau Field watching the Packers play.
He was buried wearing his Green Bay packer jersey in a green and gold casket. His six pallbearers all wore green and gold sweatshirts.
To be fair, there also a few Detroit Lions fans in the Upper Pennsula counties near the Mackinac Bridge.
Sad to say there are even some Minnesota Viking fans in the far western hinterlands of the U.P. not far from Duluth, Minnesota.
Pictured Rocks National Seashore near Munising is a dramatically long bluff of many different colors and layers. The Pictured Rocks are from 50 to 200 feet high straight up from Lake Superior and extend 15 miles along the 42 mile length of the National Seashore. Some of the most beautiful shorelines in the country are on Lake Superior
Not all Yoopers hate the winter. As a matter of fact, many of them look forward to it.
This group especially includes the fans of snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles.
The Upper Peninsula is laced with snowmobile trails and many businesses including restaurants and motels that cater to these folks who love to rush through the snow on their modern machines.
Others love to go skiing in the Porcupine Mountains or ice boating on one of the many frozen lakes.
Even Green Bay freezes over and prevents shipping in the winter months. It's not inevitable these days, however, as the climate in the Upper Peninsula seems to be warming.
In the old days there were stage coaches that hauled people and freight on the thick ice from the Upper Peninsula 17 miles across the bay to Door County, Wisconsin.
Whether it's summer, fall, or winter, another important part of Yooper culture is the neighborhood tavern. In the old days there seemed to be one on every block in every town in the U.P.
These taverns served as community centers, a place to relax after work, a place to take your family for a beer or a fish fry, or just a friendly place to get away from it all for awhile.
Many times the tavern reflected the ethnicity of the neighborhood. It might be French, Irish, German, Norwegian, Swedish, or many others.
The Upper Peninsula was a melting pot but people still enjoyed being around people from the Old Country.
When I lived in Menominee there were many neighborhood bars. The one closest to my house was the Ogden Club. Val was the owner and Alice was his hostess and waitress.
The Ogden Club is still there but under different ownership. The owners may have changed, but it's still a friendly neighborhood tavern.
Just to be fair and balanced, it should be mentioned that churches were and still are a big part of the Yooper culture.
The large variety of different nationalities in the U.P. meant there is a church for almost any religion.
Many communities with large Polish and French populations had Catholic majorities.
But there were also plenty of Protestant denominations such as Lutheran, Methodist, and Baptist.
The major industries in the U.P. include manufacturing, technology, banking, business services, mining, construction, product distribution, warehousing, and healthcare. There is also a sizable number of people who work in government and education.
In spite of these jobs, the Upper Peninsula suffers from a much higher unemployment rate than the rest of the region, including downstate Michigan and Wisconsin.
This employment situation has been long term and is one reason why many Yoopers leave for the bigger cities down state or in adjacent Wisconsin or Minnesota.
But no matter where a Yooper man or woman may live now, the Upper Peninsula is still home in their hearts.
By Mike Miller, Copyright 2020-2021 YooperSecrets.com