Gladstone: A hub for outdoor innovation

Perched on the shores of Little Bay de Noc, Gladstone is an outdoor paradise. 

So, it’s no wonder it’s home to many businesses that serve the recreational needs of outdoor enthusiasts.

“With premier walleye fishing in the area, a city-owned ski hill, a beautiful park system connected by non-motorized pathways, and several golf courses within a 10-minute drive from the city, it is natural that the area attracts many businesses that cater to these outdoor activities,” says Patricia West, Gladstone Downtown Development coordinator.  

Gladstone, among other things, is known as the Walleye Capital of the World.

“The outdoor opportunities Gladstone offers challenges visitors and residents alike to enjoy what we have, and our businesses cater to people who participate in the fun,” says Renee Barron, Gladstone’s zoning administrator. 

Gun shops, knife makers, fishing lure manufacturers and more — they have all found inspiration in Gladstone, a community of about 5,000 people in Delta County, about 10 miles north of Escanaba.

That spirit of innovation continues. Some businesses have opened recently. Others have been around for decades, and at least one, the iconic Marble Arms, for more than a century. Here's a glimpse of some of those outdoor outfitters and manufacturers:

Old Glory Firearms

Among Gladstone’s newer outdoor-based businesses is Old Glory Firearms.
Jonathan Conroy’s passion for guns proved contagious to his wife, Autumn. So, the couple established their firearms business in 2011, selling at first to family and friends out of their garage. They opened their shop in 2019. 

“It all began because my husband wanted a specific rifle, a Savage 110 BA 338 Lapua,” Autumn says. “He found it. We still have it, and it's a big one … Then our friends and family started asking for scope mounts and other gunsmithing accessories, so it developed into a storefront.”

Autumn and Jonathan ConroyJonathan calls himself extremely passionate about finding the right gun for each customer and teaching the proper methods for handling firearms. Jonathan is a National Rifle Association counselor, certified to teach more than 20 different classes, including one leading to a concealed pistol license. He also teaches firearms safety to children, through 4-H.

Jonathan taught Autumn everything she knows about guns. Holding an associate’s degree in accounting, Autumn does independent tax returns 
in addition to running the shop, 

They chose the name “Old Glory Firearms” because Jonathan’s family is military, so the flag played a big role in his growing-up years. An eagle in their logo incorporates elements of the American flag.  

In addition to selling a full line of firearms, ammunition and holsters, Jonathan is a gunsmith who repairs all kinds of weapons. “No part too small, we fix them all,” says the Old Glory Firearms website.

But the business specializes in training. “I push the classes over everything else,” Autumn says. “We teach all sorts of things, from a basic pistol class to advanced training.” They have several instructors, each with expertise in a different area. 

The Conroys recently opened an indoor training center and are working on establishing an outdoor shooting range. 

Marble Arms

Marble Arms has been in Gladstone quite a bit longer.  The company got its start in 1892, when Webster Marble began manufacturing his first invention, Marble’s universal rifle sight. His improved front sight hit the market in 1902, followed a year later by his automatic flexible joint rear sight. 

Webster MarbleMarble ended up with nearly 70 patents, including a waterproof matchbox invented after he fell into the Sturgeon River and drowned his matches, says Dennis Pace, a retired Lansing advertising executive who collects Marble merchandise. 

Marble Arms now manufactures rear sights, front sights, peep tang sights — which mount at the rear of the barrel and give a longer sight radius — handgun sights and shotgun beads. Today’s versions offer vintage styling with screw-adjustable wind controls for more precise targeting.

“Marble’s products are all steel, all American and all Gladstone, Michigan,” the company’s website proudly proclaims.

Marble’s ingenuity also inspired two knife manufacturers in Delta County – Rapid River Knifeworks and Bark River Knives.

Bark River Knives

Bark River Knives is a family-owned business in Gladstone with one goal: to craft the best cutting tools on the market. Their products are designed for use by outdoorsmen and anyone else who needs high-performance knives.  

The company produces traditional and contemporary designs and styles. They also use manufacturing methods that are a blend of the modern and traditional to achieve needed tolerances while keeping subtle features that have distinguished exemplary cutting implements for centuries. 

Bark River Knives sells only to wholesalers and retailers. They do not sell directly to individuals. 

They sponsor the Bark River Knife Collectors Association, dedicated to fostering interest in and knowledge about Bark River knives and their history. The Association welcomes anyone who is interested in or collects this brand of knives. 

There are many other businesses in or near Gladstone that produce and sell outdoors products and services. Among them: Pisces Fish Machinery, Brampton Bike & Ski, Rapid River Knifeworks and Bay de Noc Resort, Bait and Tackle.

Bay de Noc Lure Company

The Bay de Noc Lure Company was founded in Gladstone in 1955. The company’s first lure, the Swedish Pimple, took the fishing world by storm. Used for jigging, the lure became an instant hit throughout the Midwest and beyond. 

Bay de Noc Lure is owned by two cousins, Dave Nyberg and Anders Nyberg, descendants of the company’s founders. The business has its roots in a trip to Sweden by Erik Apelgren. He brought back a fishing lure called the Nester Preken. His son, Nels, and a friend, Lloyd Nyberg, fell in love with the lure and started working to recreate it. 

The two families — Harold, Nels and Ed Apelgren and Lloyd, Carl and Paul Nyberg — eventually managed to produce the lures, which they named and trademarked as the Swedish Pimple. A distributing company in Escanaba started selling them to wholesalers and large retailers. Bay de Noc Lure now sells to many distributors and retailers. 

The two families ran the business for decades. Finally, the Nybergs bought out the Apelgrens, and Dave and Anders partnered with their fathers until they took over the business in 2010-2011. 

What started as a hobby of two families has become an American-made icon to fishermen. Field and Stream magazine has named the Swedish Pimple one of the 50 greatest lures of all time. 

Bay de Noc Lure manufactures many other lures, but the Swedish Pimple remains its most popular. Especially good for ice fishing, it has created a strong niche market for the company. 

The Nyberg cousins grew up in Gladstone. They say it’s a great place to do business. 

“The success of the lure company is mostly because we are on such good fishing waters,” says Dave Nyberg, who, like his cousin, grew up in Gladstone.  

Jennifer Donovan is a reporter with more than 40 years of experience on daily newspapers, magazines and university writing and editing. She is retired as director of news and media relations at Michigan Technological University and lives in Houghton.
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