Take Your Brain On Vacation

'Road Scholar' gets neurons firing

By Mardi Link

REGION – Which idea sounds more inviting: an "elderhostel," with its connotations of meager accommodations shared with retirees in odd locales…or "road scholar," a program appealing to wise travelers open to learning adventures? Probably the latter. The organizers of a national travel planner, which also puts together northern Michigan trips, thought so, too.

"Elderhostel has evolved as an organization, and so have our programs and participants," according to Kristin Moore, Road Scholar's vice president of marketing and communications. "The 'hostel' lodging of more than 35 years ago has given way to comfortable hotels, inns and other more luxurious, yet affordable, accommodations."

One of those comfortable accommodations is the Kettunen Center, a modern conference facility near Tustin, 12 miles south of Cadillac. It includes an arboretum and miles of hiking trails – perfect for a popular Road Scholar trip that showcases northern Michigan to mature travelers from around the world in "Explore Michigan's Local Tastes and Geocache Treasures," to be held Oct. 14-19.

"It's a pretty neat concept," says Nikki Rothwell, district horticulturist at MSU's Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station in Traverse City and a Road Scholar instructor.

Rothwell taught in the "Local Tastes and Geocache Treasures" program last fall and will participate again this October.

"Many of the participants have never been to northern Michigan before and were really impressed with our area," Rothwell said.

She advises participants on the latest research being done on apples, grapes and other area crops of special interest to northwest Michigan and visitors.

"People choose this particular program because they want to explore our area and because they think that regional agriculture is educational and valuable," Rothwell said. "It's particularly good for us here because it makes the university feel a lot more accessible. That love for learning goes both ways."

Road Scholar, founded as Elderhostel Inc. in 1975 and re-named in 2010, is a not-for-profit organization with a mission to inspire adults to learn, discover and travel. Since its inception, more than five million people have enrolled in its 6,500 educational adventures offered annually in 50 states and 150 countries. There are nine Road Scholar trips in Michigan, including studying the history and culture of Mackinac Island, exploring the western coast of Lake Michigan from Saugatuck to the Straits on a small cruise ship, camping on Isle Royale, studying copper mining in the upper peninsula and studying Great Lakes maritime history in Marquette.

While accommodations have improved in recent years, the costs are often less than comparable vacation packages since Road Scholar is a non-profit organization. Each trip lasts five to seven days and costs anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

The Local Tastes and Geocache Treasures trip is five nights, costs $699 and includes meals, expert-led lectures, as well as field trips and hands-on experiences. Besides learning about fruit growing, participants will visit the area wineries, hear from a beekeeper about the importance of pollination, and enjoy geocaching at Kettunen.

For more information, visit the Road Scholar website at www.roadscholar.org.