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UpNorthNews Capitol Reporter Christina Lieffring documents her reporting trip to Marinette and Appleton—and all the local eats, drinks, and sights along the way.

It’s the Legislature’s August vacation, and since I’m fully vaxxed and my shiny new hybrid has a full tank of gas, I’m free to hit the road and see what there is to see across Wisconsin. 

Since I was born and raised in Middle America, I too grew up with the mentality of, ‘It’s only a four-hour drive. We’ll be there in no time.’ 

Last week, I went to Marinette to talk with locals about the latest developments with the ​​per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) dumped into the local groundwater by Johnson Controls International/Tyco Industries, and what it’s like living with a dangerous contaminant in the water after years of manufacturing firefighting foam. There will be more on that this week.

In the meantime, I wanted to share some of the highlights from my time on the road. Wisconsin’s a big state with a lot to see, and we at UpNorthNews are more than happy to boost what makes it special. (All photos and video by Christina Lieffring)

Home sweet home.

As someone who’s seen more than her fair share of the Midwest, I’ve got to say Wisconsin does not get enough credit for its natural beauty, especially once you get off the interstate and take on the twisty state and county highways.

The scenery on US 41 somewhere between Green Bay and Marinette.

Montana writer Anne Helen Peterson wrote on her Substack that summer’s “two and a half months of near-perfect weather is the gift to Montanans who make it through the winter.” 

“It’s why there’s so much derision for people who come just for the summer: The gift feels unearned,” she wrote. “At the very least, visitors must not disrespect it, or the people who cherish it after making their way through seven False Springs.”

I’ve never been to Montana, but in Sun Prairie this year we had False Springs well into June. I don’t know what Marinette endured, but I’m sure they earned their 70-degree weather. 

I interviewed residents in the Town of Peshtigo, a community of lovely little houses tucked away in the forest that looks out on Green Bay.

Any good road trip also requires lots of coffee and stops at local restaurants.

I Googled “coffee” just outside of Appleton, and I had to. Coffee, snacks, and cats that are up for adoption from the Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary, a no-kill shelter.
I can’t get a cat. I can’t get a cat.

On my way back home, I stopped in Appleton again to talk with Rep. Lee Snodgrass (D-Appleton) about pollinators and her love of the outdoors, and she recommended I grab lunch at Bowl 91. On top of the chic decor in the heart of hoppin’ Appleton, the restaurant served up some of the best curry I’ve had in a while.

Just two Girl Scouts talking about pollinators.
Bowl 91 serves up top-tier Asian food in the heart of downtown Appleton.
Check out that ceiling!
Mango yellow curry. Will be back in a heartbeat.

And of course I couldn’t leave until I’d gotten some more coffee, this time from Acoca Coffee, also in downtown Appleton. 

Acoca Coffee in downtown Appleton.
For someone who drinks a lot of coffee, I don’t know a lot about coffee, so I went with a staff recommendation: the lavender latte, but with oat milk instead of almond.

Moving on up to Marinette, which may technically be my first trip “up north.” I didn’t realize until very recently that there is a specific “up north” region—well, specific to each person—so don’t bother trying to argue with me about where to draw the line. I grew up in Kansas City; to us, the whole state of Wisconsin is “up north” enough.

The Dunlap Building in downtown Marinette.
Lunch at the Cafe Green, in downtown Marinette which serves up tasty soups, salads, smoothies, and sandwiches.
Located on a weirdly shaped corner, Cafe Green’s a hip, healthy little spot serving up fresh comfort food.
Took a bite out of my Cuban sandwich and then remembered to take a photo, it was that good.

I also took the opportunity to hop across the border to see what was going on in Menominee, Michigan, a sister community to Marinette that is only separated by the Menominee River that flows out into Green Bay. While Menominee has a lower population than Marinette and lower average income, Menominee’s downtown is more fully developed, with shops and restaurants in historic buildings for blocks along the bay. 

Photo of downtown Menominee, Michigan.

It was a particularly windy day with high waves and I, in all my wisdom, decided that these would be the perfect conditions for walking out onto a pier to get a better view of Menominee’s North Pier Lighthouse. 

I thought I was going to make it off the pier dry, but Green Bay told me to think again. With sopping wet shoes and socks, I grabbed a burger and bratwurst at Micky-Lu Bar-B-Q. The fare isn’t exactly barbeque (again, I’m from one of the capitals of smoked meat), but basic Americana staples cooked over a charcoal grill, giving them that umph of char. Portions are small and bring cash. 

What better way to end the day?

Where should I go next? What should I eat? And, most importantly, where should I get coffee? Email me at [email protected] and follow me for more adventures on Twitter @StinaDale