Taxidermy museum wants kids to hunt, embrace nature

John Carlisle, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Outdoors

To make ends meet, they planted a cherry orchard on adjacent land, raised elk and deer for money and meat, and did dock and hoist work for nearby boaters. Gradually, business grew. So did people's curiosity -- many would stop by the shop just to see the taxidermied animals. Voss realized they might be worth showcasing in their own room. It took seven years for the family to build.

There are birds in flight. A deer in repose. A bobcat about to pounce. A fawn foolishly sniffing the face of a skunk. All with paintings as backdrops to evoke the seasons, while a recording of mammal sounds and bird calls plays in a loop through overhead speakers.

Dominating it all are thousands of American Indian arrowheads glued in framed arrangements around stern portraits of famous Indian chiefs on the walls. They were collected by Voss' grandfather growing up on a Highland Park farm a century ago. "He would be plowing behind the mule and he had a tin can wired to the handlebars of the plow, so he's plowing along and picking up artifacts and throwing them in the tin can," Voss said.

The overall effect of the bird calls and the stuffed animals and the Indian artifacts and the antique guns is to step back in time to an earlier era in Michigan history, the heyday of the pioneers, when tribes and settlers existed uneasily alongside one another, and everyone lived simple lives off the land.

"Everything was in my head. I knew what I wanted to do, but I never had any drawings. I just knew what I wanted to do," Voss said of the now-popular tourist stop. "My wife and I spent so much time in there, but now when you see people's reactions, it just makes you feel good."

Once the museum opened, Voss expected nearby schools to flock here, jumping at the chance to teach kids about the outdoors. But few did.

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"All the schools and all the people I talked to, they all pretty much had the same story -- they said it cost too much for a school bus driver, and I told them that's not right. I said that's just an excuse."

A simpler explanation was behind this, he believed. "There's guns and dead animals in here," he said. "And some of the teachers don't want that. The public school system, a lot of it has gotten so liberal, they don't want kids hunting. They tend to discourage them."

It isn't like the old days, back when most Michigan schools routinely gave kids a day off for opening day of deer rifle-hunting season. Back when opening day in Michigan rivaled Thanksgiving as a holiday, and kids like him looked forward to it every year.

Maybe, Voss thought, it's because kids are more interested nowadays in their electronics and smartphones.


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