It was a love of river rafting at an area resort that led Evan Blagec to his current position as general manager and co-owner of True North Outpost in Norway.
Located near the Menominee River, one of the wildest and most scenic rivers in the Upper Midwest, True North Outpost offers a variety of outdoor adventures, including whitewater rafting, guided paddle and mountain bike trips, and rock climbing. The outfitter also rents outdoor sports equipment and offers a "build your own adventure."
Evan Blagec is general manager and co-owner of True North Outpost.
“When we started the business Nate (Alwine) and Austin Kalcec, owners, brought me on because of that previous outdoor adventure experience. I have always been an outdoors person. The three of us love spending time outside so we wanted to provide an opportunity for others to do the same,” Blagec said.
Blagec met Alwine following his time at the resort, while the two were attending college. Like Blagec, Alwine, an IT engineer, and Kalcec, an electrical engineer, have a passion for outdoor adventure, so their business venture seemed natural.
"(Alwine's) a U.P. guru and his passion is helping others to have outdoor adventures," Blagec said. (Kalcec's) passion is for over road trips, camping, vehicles, etc."
The trio found a home for their business in a 100-year-plus building that needed extensive renovation. True North Outpost began in the fall of 2017 and officially opened for business in May 2019. They've served thousands of adventure customers since then.
The rustic building once served as a farm home and boarding house. At one time, the highway ran on the opposite side of the house, which necessitated switching the building’s entrance from the back to the front. The building had been vacant since the 1980s and by the 1990s was in disrepair.
The crew of three repurposed materials salvaged from defunct sawmills, fallen barns, a hospital (slated for demolition) and even treated lumber from an old industrial site. The house has a colorful history, according to its website, once “home to an escaped circus monkey for years.”
Build your own adventure.
“I think our most unusual Build Your Own Adventure was a bird-watching tour we took some older folks on in the fall. They wanted to put eight people in one raft with cameras and float the lower section of the Menominee River looking for birds. It was a wonderful relaxing experience, very interesting to see folks of that age range so passionate about watching birds,” Blagec said.
The Outpost tagline:
“Tell us what you want your outdoor adventure to be and we will find and make it happen for you.” The above-mentioned bird-watching raft trip is a prime example of the Outpost’s custom trip planning option. An experience is built directly around whatever the customer is looking for. Customers who are seeking a particular kind of outdoor adventure in the U.P. may contact the Outpost staff and turn the planning over to them.
“It can be as easy as handing you some maps and pointing you in the right direction,
or as involved as sending out a guide to cook meals, provide equipment and guiding services,” Blagec said.
The Outpost’s major season extends from Memorial Day to Labor Day. “On average we run anywhere between 3,000 to 4,000 customers a year down the river. Our most popular days of the week, of course, are Friday, Saturday and Sunday but we are running trips every day. Typically, our rafting trips go out at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. each day with private trips before and after each of those public trip times."
Michelle Kalcek, retail manager, and Lucy Joyce, hospitality manager, are in charge of the Outpost’s retail operation. The store offers one-of-a-kind art and décor from local U.P. artists. Their merchandise includes True North Outpost gear, plus branded gear from the Upper Peninsula, Piers Gorge and Norway.
Merchandise is displayed throughout the first floor of the renovated building, a farmhouse dating back to the 1890s. The second floor displays an incredible array of antiques ranging from doll houses, lamps and cooking utensils to furniture. A second building is under construction and will house the antique portion of the business once finished. The Outpost also sells architectural salvage with “awesome one-of-a-kind old and upcycled items” Blagec said.
“We definitely don’t have any plans of slowing down. We are currently in the process of building a new antique store. Also, we are testing a couple of new adventure options — both high adventure and low adventure. We are passionate about partnerships. In the future, we are looking to partner with as many local businesses and groups as we can to keep providing incredible outdoor experiences for those that are seeking them,” Blagec said.
True North Outpost, W 5768 Old Piers Gorge Road, Norway. (906) 239-4971.
Ann Dallman has lifelong roots in Michigan’s UP. She started out as a newspaper reporter/photographer and returned to journalism after retiring from teaching. Her first Middle Grade novel, Cady and the Bear Necklace, received a State History Award (Books/Youth) from the Historical Society of Michigan as well as a Midwest Book Award, New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, was a Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist and a UP Notable Book. Her second book, Cady and the Birchbark Box, also received the Historical Society of Michigan State Award and is also a UP Notable Book.
Enjoy this story? Sign up
for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.