HOUGHTON - Diane Otto enjoys the Road Scholar program so much she's taken 31 of their trips, and her husband, Bob, has taken 23 of them.
The Ottos, who are from Pittsburgh, Pa., were one of 17 people taking part in the Road Scholar program focusing on the Keweenaw Peninsula and Lake Superior, including Isle Royale. On Sunday, they had an orientation session and meal at the Portage Lake District Library in Houghton.
The Road Scholar program is the worldwide travel part of Elder Hostel, a non-profit lifelong learning program based in Massachusetts.
Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
John and Ann Mahan, center of circle, talk during orientation for participants in the Elder Hostel Road Scholar program. The Mahans, who are outdoor writers and photographers, created the course for the local Road Scholar program, which examines the geology and plant and animal life of the Keweenaw Peninsula, Isle Royale and Lake Superior.
Diane Otto said they keep coming back to the Road Scholar program because it gives them a special opportunity for travel.
"Sometimes (we go to) places we might not go on our own," she said.
Bob Otto said between the two of them they've been to Death Valley in California, New Zealand (which Diane did alone), the Galapagos Islands off South America, Costa Rica, the Panama Canal and Newfoundland, Canada.
"They're all good," he said. "There hasn't been a bad one."
Diane Otto said on hertrip to New Zealand one of the lecturers was going to talk about a topic that didn't really excite her, but she was pleasantly surprised.
"It was one of the best lectures I ever heard," she said.
The Road Scholar program conducts two or three trips per year, and Diane Otto said she and Bob sometimes do more than one a year.
In a June 2 precede article in the Gazette about this year's local Road Scholar program, Ken Vrana, director of the Isle Royale Institute, said he's involved with Road Scholar because the mission of the IRI is to assist the National Park Service with education about Isle Royale and the Great Lakes in general. He administers the program and makes the budgets. This year, the local sessions are June 10 to 16, June 24 to 30 and July 8 to 14.
Rachelle Bachran, site coordinator and accommodations host for the Isle Royale Institute's local Road Scholar program, said the 17 people taking part for the June 24 to 30 session is a little below what they usually have.
"We have up to 26 people that participate," she said.
For this Road Scholar session, Bachran said participants came from Alaska, California, Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, and Tennessee.
"We're very well represented," she said.
After spending two nights on the Keweenaw Peninsula, Bachran said the group will travel to Isle Royale for three days.
Bachran said she and Vrana have been making an effort to get more local residents involved with the local part of the program.
"I feel we have acres of diamonds in our own backyard," she said.
Conducting the local program are Ann and John Mahan, who are outdoor writers and photographers based in Gaylord, Mich.
John Mahan said he and Ann became involved in the Road Scholar program in the early 2000s after Vrana asked them to take part.
"When the Isle Royale Institute got off the ground, they asked us to do this," he said.
Mahan said he and Ann designed the course for the local Road Scholar program, which ties together the geology and plant and animal life of the Keweenaw Peninsula and the Lake Superior region.
"It's Isle Royale centric, but it's about the Superior," he said.
As of this year, Mahan said he and Ann have worked with 18 Road Scholar groups.
"It's one of the most enjoyable things we do," he said.
Mahan said on Isle Royale, the groups take day hikes to see the geology and plant and animal life. They also get to meet wolf researchers Rolf and Carolyn Peterson.
Most of the people who participate in Road Scholar are very curious and ask a lot of questions, Mahan said.
"We just have a blast," he said. "These people are full of life."
To get information about the July 8-14 Road Scholar session, call Ken Vrana at 487-4335, or Rachelle Bachran at 808-298-2800. Information about the Road Scholar program can be found online at roadscholar.org.