From Holly to Raco – A Story by Sharon Kennedy

Over 30 years ago, Corinne Franke, a pretty gal from Holly, MI went backpacking with a group of church friends called “The Pathfinders.” Their leader picked one of the most isolated and beautiful places in the Upper Peninsula—Isle Royal. This remote island might have been chosen to test the courage and resilience of the young people. It’s one thing to dream about being a pathfinder in a wilderness area, but it’s an entirely different matter to actually camp there and overcome the challenges of ticks, mosquitoes, rodents, and an assortment of potentially dangerous wildlife.    

However, for Corinne it was a snap because she loved the outdoors. She eventually met and married her soul mate, David Withey, a General Motors die maker, who loved nature as much as she did. When he was at work, she was a busy home-maker raising their two sons, Josh and Joe. As a family, they vacationed in various places, but when they discovered Raco, a tiny town in Chippewa County in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, they knew they had found Utopia. In 2007, they designed their home, had it built, and moved there 10 years later when David retired. He put the finishing touches on it. By this time, their sons were adults and on their own. Corinne and David never looked back as they settled into the community and soon became friends with the locals.

I asked Corinne why they chose Raco as their new home. Her response was immediate, “We love winter and winter activities. Raco was our choice because it’s the first town to get snowfall and the last to see it melt away. We couldn’t pass up such an opportunity where we could enjoy winter sports for months on end. We love this place and the people who live here. Our nearest neighbor is 600’ away. We became good friends with Doug Wiser who taught me how to fish, something I enjoy more than my husband does.

“When enough snow has fallen and the trails are ready, it’s snowmobile time, a sport David and I eagerly participate in with our friends and family. I gear up with leather bibs and coat and a full-face helmet with a heated shield. My Yamaha Viper also has a heated seat. Sometimes we don’t have a particular destination in mind and ride for hours on groomed and Forest Service trails around Raco, Hulbert, and Strongs. Other times we ride to Epofette in Mackinac County, Grand Marais in Alger County, and all the way to Copper Harbor in Keweenaw County. Copper Harbor is an 1190 mile round trip I’ve made only once. My favorite trail is 889 around Mission Hill in Bay Mills Township. I ride as often as I can, but I’ll admit 10 degrees Fahrenheit is as low as I enjoy. However, sometimes you have to just suck it up and go! We rarely stop for lunch unless we’re making a day of it. If the snow is good around the Epofette area, we’ll head for Epofette Bay View Restaurant for lunch.

“I love snowmobiling and seeing the pristine winter beauty of the Upper Peninsula. I’ll often stop and take pictures. Occasionally, I’ll see wildlife. I don’t snowshoe so snowmobiling is a terrific way to get out and enjoy the season. It’s a wonderful feeling to be following a trail with friends and family, breathing the fresh, clean air, and watching the sun’s rays cast diamond-like sparkles on the snow. I’m thankful I live in Raco. It’s one of those hidden gems not many people are fortunate enough to call home.”

Corinne also enjoys ice fishing for whitefish, trout, Coho salmon, steelheads, and whatever else swims in. She uses a spear for herring. When the ice is gone, she trades her shanty for her 16’ pontoon Sun tracker. She fishes Lake Superior and other inland lakes for various species including walleye and perch. As every serious fisherman knows, the exact locations are top secret. She will say she uses an Eagle Claw or Shakespeare rod, but is not loyal to any one particular brand. Her bait is both live and artificial.

The largest fish she brought in was a 43.5” northern pike. “I was walleye fishing, just drifting along, when my bobber went right down out of sight, and I knew I had something big on the line,” Corinne said. “I started reeling it in and whatever I had caught took off like a shot a couple of times. It was in no hurry to leave the water. I just kept playing him slow and steady until I finally got him near the boat. I could see what it was—a northern pike—the alligator of the north! We got the net ready and landed him, but the excitement didn’t stop there. When we were cleaning that big boy, we saw a 14” whitefish in his belly. I’m pretty sure when he swam by and saw the nightcrawler on my hook he thought, ‘That looks like a great dessert.’ The worm ended his happy days, but the pike satisfied my hunger for many meals to come.”

When this outdoors-loving woman isn’t snowmobiling or fishing, she’s tending to her flock of 12 chickens, planting a vegetable garden, sewing, repurposing material for hand-made bags, or walking the beach looking for stones and driftwood for craft projects. Corinne is a beautiful, generous lady who lives life to the fullest. Her enthusiasm for our area and the joy in her voice when she talks about the community of Raco is genuine. The first time I met her was when she stopped by my garage sale. I knew from the get-go she was a gal anyone would be proud to call friend.

Happy snowmobiling, Corinne. Only a few more weeks of winter remain. Enjoy every hour on the trails!

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