Running the far northern edge of Wisconsin — and the nation — is US Highway 2. The corridor covers a rich history and scenery from Everett, Washington to St. Ignace, Michigan. The film “Route 2 Elsewhere” will examine life along life in these rural flyover states.
Dirk Wierenga, of New Haven, Mich., is heading up the 1,500-mile west-to-east project along with his partner at Principia Media, which together they founded.
“I’ve always had a love of rural places, especially Route 2,” Wierenga said. “You have a whole different dynamic there.”
Route 2 in its early years was the Theodore Roosevelt Highway. That, until the 1920s when highway number codes were implemented. Traversing along the southern shores of Lake Superior, it includes a concurrent US Highway 53 Wisconsin Corridor Backbone Route, cutting through a host of small, small towns with tiny populations. While some may consider it a lonely route of long stretches full of only trees and sky, Wierenga said these aspects represent exactly what America is.
The concept of “Route 2 Elsewhere” came in 2019, Wierenga said.
“I started traveling and talking to people to get ideas last fall,” relayed Wierenga, who currently spends a few months at home before hitting the road again to collect stories and images along Route 2.
“Route 2 Elsewhere” will examine the portion of US Highway 2 from the foothills of the mountains in Shelby, Montana through the wooded eastern upper peninsula of Michigan.
“It’s the most rural stretch that’s concurrent in the U.S.,” Wierenga stated. “I’ve found such interesting stories.”
The nostalgic towns across the 1,000-plus miles — many places which appear to not have changed for decades — once included fur trappers, copper and iron ore miners, lumber barons, oil fields, ranching and agriculture, or “boom and bust” ventures, Wierenga explained. It also traverses a 100-mile Native American reservation.
“It’s been fun. It’s just amazing, the people and the stories and the kinds of other people,” Wierenga said. “Everyone says how kind people are in the northern part of Wisconsin, but they also are in other northern places — Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota.”
Rural places include around 10% of the general population, Wierenga said. While many people only deal with or want to incorporate the power bases on the west and east coasts, those people are missing out on a unique experience and history, Wierenga indicated.
“People get their food from rural areas. They just see it as patches when they fly over, they never get down here,” Wierenga said. “The idea of the documentary is to tell the story of the region, and the joys of living here.”
“Route 2 Elsewhere” also will examine the challenges of living in these locations.
“Keeping schools full and open, diminishing populations, elder living, ambulance service, daycare, access to health care, low percent of jobs with benefits and enough wage to support a family,” Wierenga relayed. “There are lots of challenges.”
With increased efforts to establish internet access and promote such rural areas, and most importantly, working together and sharing ideas, Wierenga noted he feels these communities could become stronger and learn more.
“Each has something figured out. They can share and help each other,” he said. “The answers are all there. It’s a matter of getting the people talking.”
There is plenty of land available and developable area for more people to go rural, which Wierenga said will be outlined in the documentary.
Interviews are still being conducted along the route, and many are interested in speaking about their love of rural life, Wierenga said.
“Route 2 Elsewhere” is expected to released late this year or early next.
Writing contest for Route 2
A companion book will be released with “Route 2 Elsewhere.” Entries (12-point for, up to 1,000 words) are due March 31. Sought are original, never-published-before writings to be published in the companion book. Short stories or poems are wanted, and the writing must be incorporate an aspect of life along or near Route 2, including a reference to the route. Up to two submissions per person will be accepted.
Submissions must be emailed in Word or other acceptable formats to [email protected]
or by mail to Principia Media, 678 Front Ave NW Suite 256, Grand Rapids, MI 49504.
Wierenga has a history in media. He began a marketing firm in the mid-1980s. At that time, filming was still a fairly difficult and pricey venture, he said. The firm focused on real film and editing. By 2002, Wierenga had started a publishing firm. He sold it within a few years to a larger publisher and with partner Fern Jones, Principia Media was founded. Principia joined books and films and their first documentary was completed in under three years.
For more information on the writing contest or how to contribute stories to the documentary, visit “Route 2 Elsewhere” on Facebook or email [email protected]
Abigail Bostwick may be reached at [email protected].