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Just dropping by: Swanson’s Big Red Barn in Niagara

Rural Marinette County business offers sweets, gift shop, other holiday-themed events

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December 13, 2023

NIAGARA – Situated in rural Marinette County, Swanson’s Big Red Barn started mainly as a Christmas tree farm but has since expanded to offer much more.

Traveling north to Niagara for my 16th Just dropping by stop, the visit to Swanson’s brought me back to my “Yooper” roots – at least in a small way.

With Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.) just up the road from Swanson’s after crossing the Menominee River, the expanse of land and the smell of conifer trees made me feel right at home.

As I have previously mentioned, I grew up in the southern portion of the U.P. in Wallace.

Driving into the property, located at W7484 Valerio Road, I was met with hundreds of Christmas trees, a sweet shop, a gift shop, a small express train and an inflatable bounce pad.

In short, Swanson’s reminded me of a village you’d see at the North Pole – quaint, pretty and fun, all with various things to keep you busy during the holiday season.

I’d say a perfect spot for a holiday Just dropping by.

Coupled with his five-week-old beard, Rich proudly displays the half-dozen cookies he decorated. The Business News Staff Photo

“My love of Christmas trees was started through my dad,” Pete Swanson, who along with his wife, Brenda, co-own the Big Red Barn, said. “My dad was a lumberjack, but he wasn’t allowed to be out in the woods during hunting season. He needed a paycheck, so he took up an ad for cutting Christmas trees. My brother and I told our principal we were hunting so we could get off from school, and we dragged Christmas trees out to the road with my dad – I fell in love with it. I was probably 10 or 12.”

Years later, in 1989, Pete said his wife asked her grandparents if they could plant a few trees on their farm, and as they often say, the rest is history.

“We (eventually) bought the land and planted more than 20,000 trees,” he said. “Back then, it took 10-12 years for a tree to reach maturity to sell, so we started selling Christmas trees in 2000.”

In 2005, the Big Red Barn was built, followed by the addition of a few reindeer a year later.

“We had our first Christmas Big Red Barn event in 2010,” Pete said. “The Candy Shack was built in 2011.”

My morning at the Big Red Barn started with some cookie decorating and ended with a visit to the gift shop.

Pete gave me some pointers on how to decorate the cookies, but I’m a man of truth, and his lone cookie was much better done than the five I was responsible for.

My visit also consisted of a ride on the express train, a head-to-head Skee-ball competition with Pete, a go at Rudolph Ring Toss, a visit to the kitchen, a quick rest in Santa’s chair and feeding Rudolph – a real live reindeer – a few spritz cookies.

With the help of Pete Swanson, co-owner of the Big Red Barn, Rich feeds “Rudolph” the (red-nosed) reindeer a spritz cookie. The Business News Staff Photo

I’m not sure if Pete forgot the name of the other reindeer, or it simply didn’t have a name, but we all agreed it should be called “Rich” – we seemed to be kindred spirits. 

My trip to Swanson’s Big Red Barn in Niagara was an enjoyable one, and though it’s open only during the fall season for Pumpkinfest and again after Thanksgiving for Christmas activities, I’d encourage a visit.

I’d like to thank Brenda and Pete for their hospitality and for allowing me another first in this Just dropping by journey – petting and feeding a reindeer.

Until next time – have a great holiday season!

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