By Zoe Folsom

Outdoor recreation has become a ubiquitous element of the way that both the U.P. and Northern advertise themselves to outsiders. From the “Be Northern” advertising campaign featuring kayakers, hikers, and surfers relishing the beauty of Lake Superior, to the new “Make it Marquette” encouraging new businesses and workers to emigrate to the U.P. by describing it as a place “for those of us who long for the option to leave the laptop at 5, and immerse into the woods by 5:05” (, the outdoors proves a central argument drawing people to this place. Given its commonality, one might take for granted the fact that this focus on outdoor recreations and the countless offerings the Marquette area has to offer. In fact, only a few decades ago, many of the trails, races, and sports that incoming Yoopers love the area for didn’t exist. Northern programs and graduates have played a significant role in changing that.

    Peter ZentiThe history of Marquette (and Northern’s) obsession with outdoor recreation really ramped up in the 1980’s. While residents had long enjoyed strolling around Presque Isle, or maybe even climbing up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain (and spent plenty of time outside through traditional Yooper activities like hunting and fishing), the introduction of new kinds of trails like the Marquette Fit Strip and the introduction of Northern’s Outdoor Recreation program meant a new kind of outdoor enthusiast was coming to town. BMX, popular in the 80s, soon gave way to mountain biking as new construction technologies were developed, and the bikers and skiiers (and later winter bikers) needed trails. The Fit Strip was Marquette’s first cross-country skiing trail, but it certainly wouldn’t be the last. One of the biggest trail development initiatives in the area throughout the past few decades is the Noquemanon Trail Network, which now boasts dozens of miles of trails around Marquette County (and even took over supervising the fit strip). This trail network came about as the result of the sustained efforts of dozens of people in the area, and Northern Alumni have played a part throughout their development. Peter Zenti (whose well-known alumni dad Rico served as NMU’s athletic director and department head of what is now called the School of Health and Human Performance for years) moved back to Marquette as a physician because he’d always had such a fondness for the U.P. He took his experience developing mountain-biking trails in Minocqua to the Northern side of Marquette and razed what would become the Noquemanon North Trails. He also developed trails near Forestville, a few of which even rest on NMU property (the “Wildcat” and “Mildcat” trails). Zenti remains proud of and grateful to the university for supplying that land and for supporting new outdoor recreation opportunities in the area. 

Northern faculty with a passion for the outdoors have also advanced recreation opportunities in the areaDr. Phil Watts. A prime example is Dr. Phil Watts, a retired professor of exercise science, who is broadly considered the godfather of U.P. climbing. Although he’d never actually climbed before moving to Marquette to teach exercise science at NMU, he joined a local outdoor adventure group and his love of rock climbing grew from there. In addition to pioneering the development of locally loved crags like AAA, he became a leading expert in the physiological science of rock climbing. He also went on to mentor the next generation of U.P. climbing stewards such as Bill Thompson, co-owner of Down Wind Sports and organizer of the Michigan Ice Fest. Bill was one of the early cohorts of NMU’s Outdoor Bill ThompsonRecreation Leadership & Management major, a program pioneered by the late emeritus professor Dr. Jean Kinnear, who had a powerful impact on many of her students. As an outdoor recreation major, he gained his first exposure to rock climbing through Phil Watt’s class. Thompson also worked for Northern’s Outdoor Recreation Center as a student and became its manager while pursuing an individualized master’s degree. Through his work with Down Wind and the Michigan Ice Fest, he’s helped establish the U.P. as a destination for climbers, and even publishes guidebooks for the area. He still climbs sometimes with his friend Phil, and teaches the class that was grandfathered down to him after serving as Dr. Watt’s assistant for many years. Without Northern’s program, he might not have had the skills to have such a dramatic impact on outdoor recreation in the U.P. Current Outdoor Recreation Professor Dr. Jacquie Medina (who graduated from the program herself in its early days) thinks that the U.P. offers a unique and unmatched opportunity for recreation: 

  Mimi Klotz  Marquette’s outdoor recreation community has grown from students hiking to the local haunts to hundreds of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and more. It continues to grow as locals dream up new possibilities for outdoor adventure, such as the growing surfing community of Lake Superior’s winter waves. The U.P.’s natural wonders have always been a point of pride for those who choose to make this sometimes-unforgiving wilderness their home. With Northern’s influence, they’ve simply found new ways to enjoy the environment they already loved. Of course, the U.P. is more than just Marquette, and outdoor rec alumni have influenced other nearby communities as well. Mimi Klotz, for example, serves as director of Clear Lake Education Center in Manistique. Clear Lake offers classes for a variety of ages and abilities focused on knowing and appreciating the natural world. Although Mimi never expected to use her zoology degree from Northern to foster the next generation of outdoor stewards, she couldn’t help but to get involved when her children took classes with Clear Lake, and eventually became the director. It provides an opportunity to meld both her scientific knowledge of the natural world and her enthusiasm for the endless possibilities of being outside, and she’s grateful to be able to extend that possibility to hundreds of U.P. students. 

Undoubtedly, the U.P. has become a destination for outdoor recreation, and it seems that influence will only grow as more and more people become aware of this magical and quiet wilderness where mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, paddling, skiing, fishing, surfing, and more (though not all at the same time, of course) are possible and only a short drive away. Today, Northern promotes these unique outdoor recreation opportunities, and it’s not rare to see them sharing news of a current or former student pushing their limits (say, for example, by paddling or biking the perimeter of Lake Superior). Thankfully, Northern’s program and community influence has been around to help pave the course for this transition to an eco-tourism-based economy. Hopefully, the support it has shown for recreation in the past will continue as U.P. communities navigate the influx of people to their natural sites (which can put extreme strain on the landscape, as has been seen at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in recent years). At the very least, we know that dedicated nature loving NMU alums will be advocating for fun, safe, and sustainable Yooper adventures for as long as they can. 

For an in-depth look at the history of outdoor recreation in the Marquette area, visit, where the Marquette Regional History Center made their special exhibit about this subject digital. The exhibit's resources and testimony came in large part from work by Dr. Jacquie Medina, an NMU Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Management Professor and alumna of that same program. As an avid believer in connecting the classroom to the community, she serves as another great example of how NMU impacts outdoor recreation in the area

A native of Plainfield, Illinois, Jacquie came to Northern in the 1980s for two reasons; to play volleyball and because it had an outdoor recreation program. “The program started up in the late 70s, with classes such as hiking and snowshoeing,” Medina says, “ the outdoor rec program was really new, it was fun because there weren’t many outdoor recreation programs. A lot of people don’t actually seek out the degree, they happen upon it and then realize it’s something that they can study and turn to it. A number of my peers and classmates joined because of their passions, love of the environment and wanted to work outside and be outside.”

She was able to grow professionally working at the Outdoor Recreational Center at Northern, which developed while she was in school. It was in the basement of Hedgecock, in a small room with tents and stoves and whatnot. A handful of people in the program got to work there, check gear out, and also went on trips, sometimes out-of-state. She was one of the students in the first Dr. Phil Watts rock climbing class, and later in the 90s she was able to assist Dr. Watts with classes. 

Medina taught at a couple different Universities after receiving her Phd but then got a call in 2012 from Dr. Cheryl Teeters in Northern’s program. Some faculty members were retiring and there were positions open. That’s when she applied and was offered the position to come back. Jacquie says, “I had to think about it because I love the West, but also love Marquette. Many outdoor rec students dream of the Mountains and the Northwest, yet Marquette has always been the exception. Northern is an amazing school that’s not too small, not too big. The faculty get to know their students and do quality research. It was an opportunity to be back in the environment but also so I could give back and help other people find their passion in outdoor recreation.” 

Medina continues, “the culture of Northern, especially in school of health and human performance; colleagues are really quality people and great instructors who are passionate about teaching. The Students and focus on teaching brings people here as faculty members, but they’re also doing amazing research and service and taking students on field courses. The faculty really likes to be here and where they work and live. I’ve worked in great places, but here, the environment is part of life. The feeling that is hard to put words to, kind of like an exhale, because you can relax. There’s something that makes you feel like you’re home, an energy of people up here that captures that. It is unique to Marquette and also Northern.”

One of Jacquie’s mentors was Jean Kinnear, who was mentioned by almost everyone that I interviewed as being incredibly influential in their journey to becoming an outdoor recreation professional. I found her obituary online and I think it does a good job of emphasizing her professional and personal focus: 

Jean L. Kinnear, 68, died quietly on Wednesday morning, September 17, 2014 of multiple myeloma at home in Marquette in the care of her partner, friends, and Lake Superior Hospice. Born in Rockbridge County, Virginia April 26, 1946, daughter of Horace and Frances (Davis) Kinnear, she grew up on the family farm near Lexington. Her legacy is a Virginia Outdoors Foundation Conservation Easement to preserve this land forever undivided as farm and forest. Jean is survived by life partner Joanna Mitchell, mother Frances D. Kinnear of Harrisonburg, VA, sister Sarah M. Kinnear of Alexandria, VA, dear friends, and many students at NMU and Penn State. She earned a B.S. in biology from Virginia Commonwealth University and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Recreation and Parks from Pennsylvania State University with minors in biology and water quality, respectively. As a professor at Northern Michigan University for 30 years, Jean was the founder of the outdoor recreation curriculum, later the Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Management major, and created many courses in that curriculum. While at NMU, she chaired the Academic Senate, served on many committees and retired with emeritus status. She received the Julian Smith Award (MAOEE) for lifetime achievement in outdoor education in 2008. Flatwater and FreeStyle canoeing, rowing, canoeing instruction and history were lifelong pursuits. As a long time American Canoe Association Instructor Trainer in flatwater canoeing and earlier as an American Red Cross Small Craft Instructor in rowing and canoeing, Jean is the recipient of The Quiet Water Society's 2014 Verlen Kruger Award. For the National Association for Interpretation, Jean served both regionally and nationally as a member, office holder, committee chair and workshop organizer. She received NAI awards including NAI Fellow 2008, two time National Meritorious Service Award, Distinguished Professional Interpreter, and Regional Meritorious Service Award. Locally, Jean was a founder of the Hiawatha Interpretive Association (Hiawatha National Forest) serving as member and secretary for many years. She was a contributor to the Marquette Monthly "In the Outdoors" column in its early years, Executive Board member of the Marquette Maritime Museum in its formative years and served on the Marquette Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. She enjoyed farming, reading, hand tools, Packers football, and seeing what's around the corner, over the hill and through the door. Jean wished to gratefully acknowledge the wisdom and compassion of the oncology physicians and staff at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center and the MGH Hematology and Oncology office. You can honor Jean's memory by sitting in a quiet spot in nature, free of distractions and letting it speak to you. Contributions are invited to the Canadian Canoe Museum, the Peter White Public Library, WNMU-TV or WNMU-FM, the LiveSTRONG Foundation or The Nature Conservancy. Jean often quoted from a letter by Rachel Carson, "For the Monarch, that [life] cycle is measured in a known span of months. For ourselves, the measure is something else, the span of which we cannot know. But the thought is the same: when that intangible cycle has run its course it is a natural and no unhappy thing that a life comes to an end."