Aaron Peterson grew up and attended school in Wisconsin. After college, he moved to southern Minnesota, where he lived for about nine months. That's when he and his fiancé decided to move north to Michigan. They chose Marquette, literally because of how it looked on a map.
Both of them are really big kayakers and they wanted a place where they could settle down, raise a family and still play outside.
“We looked at that shoreline, "Peterson says, "it looked really good on a map. Yeah, 15 years later, I’m not disappointed.”
But Aaron Peterson thinks many other outdoor adventure seekers view Michigan’s Upper Peninsula as being flyover country.
When they think of the UP, they generally think of things like flannel, funny accents, and what he calls, "other weirdness."
Aaron Peterson owns a photography and filmmaking business. He says since the beginning of our country, people with adventure in their bones have always headed west. He wants to change that notion.
To do so, he’s collaborating with Bill Thompson, the owner of a Down Wind Sports in Marquette. Thompson believes the U.P. offers adventure seekers plenty of unique opportunities.
“Five minutes from where we’re standing right now, you can do any outdoor sport except mountain climbing. And it’s not that you can just do it, a lot of it is world class,” he explains.
A few years ago, Peterson and Thompson began throwing around the idea of hosting an outdoor adventure film festival in the UP.
Aaron Peterson has made the outdoor adventure film festival rounds with a few films he's made— places like the Mountain Film Festival in Telluride, Colorado. He says it was exciting to go to those places and hang out with that crowd, but he thought something was missing.
"I was alone for the most part," he says. "I was kind of scratching my head saying, ‘You know, where are all the Midwestern voices? Where are those Midwestern stories?'”
Earlier this year, Peterson and Thompson decided they couldn’t wait any longer. They’re organizing a festival in Marquette next weekend, and are calling it the Fresh Coast Film Festival.
"The Great Lakes are the fresh coast of the U.S., they're the fresh coast of North America, they're the fresh coast of world, " Peterson says.
Part of the idea behind the Fresh Coast Film Festival, is not only to help promote awareness of the adventure opportunities the U.P. has but also a conservation mindset among the entire upper Midwest.
Great Lakes, Bad Lines is one of the films that will be featured during the weekend. It highlights the concerns many people have over the continued use of the large oil pipeline running through the Mackinac Straits.
Another film, called Bear Witness, was created by Dave and Amy Freeman. The couple recently spent a year living in the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota, trying to bring awareness of what a proposed sulfide ore mine might do to the remote wilderness area.
Aaron Peterson believes the key to conserving these natural areas lies in creating a sustainable economy based on outdoor tourism.
"We wanted people to really get their feet wet— get their boots dirty," he says. "That's how you connect to the land. That's how you build that culture of repeat travel."
That's why part of the Fresh Coast Film Festival is about getting people out into the landscape. Festival goers will have the opportunity to experience the U.P. through various guided outdoor tours, including sea kayaking, fly fishing, mountain biking, and even stone skipping. Yes, stone skipping.
“You want to get real low and do a sidearm throw in most cases,” says Bugsy Sailor, a professional stone skipper from the U.P.
Bugsy says the term 'professional' is used loosely. He doesn’t make a living off his stone skipping, but does say he dedicates an unreasonable amount of his life to the sport of stone skipping.
“Leading into competition, I’ll be out on the water searching for stones and skipping, probably five nights a week,” he explains.
This year he competed in the annual July 4th stone skipping contest on Mackinac Island. The winner, Dave "Lefty" Kolar had 27 skips. Bugsy Sailor came in second with 26 skips.
Bugsy says when it comes to competition, a few judges will be on hand. They all come up with their best count— no technology is used.
“If they’re off, they’ll average the scores together," he says. "But it’s no perfect science.”
The stone skipping clinic coincides with a film that will be screened at the festival called Skipping Stones For Fudge. The film is about two Pennsylvania men who are constantly trying to best each other in the ephemeral sport. Bugsy thinks the clinic will be a nice segue for those who watch the film, and are anxious to try it for themselves.
“You know, we’ll work on some technique, see if we can increase the number of skips you’re getting,” he says.
Standing on top of Marquette's Sugarloaf Mountain with Lake Superior stretching out as far as the eye can see, Aaron Peterson says it's easy to think you're someplace other than the Midwest.
"I don't think people think of the Midwest as "grand nature" the way they do a Yosemite or a Yellowstone," he ponders. "I don't know, it does the same thing for me."
The Fresh Coast Film Festival will be held in Marquette, October 13-16. For pricing and more information, visit their website.