U.P. landowners didn't get enough Porta-Johns for ice cave visitors — so they found fix

·3 min read
The Eben Ice Caves in the Hiawatha National Forest in Michigan's Upper Peninsula aren't really caves but a sandstone outcrop with large vertical ice formations. When the ice is thick enough, it's possible to walk behind it for a cave-like experience.
The Eben Ice Caves in the Hiawatha National Forest in Michigan's Upper Peninsula aren't really caves but a sandstone outcrop with large vertical ice formations. When the ice is thick enough, it's possible to walk behind it for a cave-like experience.

The Eben Ice Caves are a winter wonderland for families across Michigan. But the beautiful, nature-filled escape can be ruined by a full bladder and no access to a public bathroom.

That's why woodworking students at a nearby high school are working to build outhouses for visitors to use.

The Eben Ice Caves are located just outside of Marquette in the Rock River Wilderness area of the Hiawatha National Forest.

In order to get to the public caves, visitors park at and walk across a private field. The private landowners allow people to do this at no charge and provide portable restrooms for people to use before they begin the short hike to the caves.

However, due to "unforeseen circumstances," the owners of the field were only able to get four Porta-Johns this year, according to an Eben Ice Caves Facebook post.

That's where the high school students come in. The property owners put in a large septic tank and the students will build two outhouses for visitors to use. They should be completed by the end of January.

There's a donation bin at the site for visitors to support the landowners, the post said.

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"The landowners allow people like you and me to pass through the field at no charge," Michigan.org wrote. "If they ever stopped allowing this, the hike to the ice caves would be much longer. In addition, the landowners now offer portable bathrooms in the parking area at no charge. Show your thanks by purchasing a hot beverage or a snack at their concession stand if you're able!"

Outhouse moons

Crescent moons carved into outhouses — including the one in the Eben Ice Caves post — are part of a centuries-old tale.

Although it's not proven, the lore says that the moons were once carved into women's bathrooms.

The story dates back to the 1800s, before literacy was widespread, according to Atlas Obscura. So, people used symbols to indicate outhouses for women and men. While women's outhouses were characterized by the moon, the men's bathrooms had a sun or star.

Holly Bollinger wrote in her book "Outhouses" that the designation is rooted in ancient symbolism.

“With the crescent moon signifying Luna or Goddess Diana it became known as a feminine symbol, therefore welcoming womenfolk,” she wrote. This might seem like a lofty reading of bathroom symbolism, but the moon has long been associated with a female aspect, and it’s not unreasonable to think that this would have been general knowledge."

Outhouse races

An Upper Peninsula classic, the annual outhouse race is one for the books. After all, there's nothing more Michigan than putting an outhouse on skis and racing it down a hill.

The Trenary Outhouse Classic takes place each year during the last week of February. The 29th annual race will be on Feb. 26, 2022.

Each outhouse is homemade and constructed out of wood, cardboard, plastic, grand piano crates and anything else the artist can think of, according to the race website.

Proceeds from the event go back into the Trenary community, the website says.

"Some outhouses are very simple and some are so elaborate you may not mind having them in your own backyard! The outhouses are pushed, one-by-one, down Trenary’s Main Street," the website reads. "The racers (team) with the best time wins a cash prize for 1st and 2nd place. Depending on age, there are 7 different categories and more prizes to be won that have nothing to do with how fast one goes."

Contact Emma Stein: estein@freepress.com.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: U.P. landowners, students add bathrooms for Eben Ice Caves visitors

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