When Ken Borton moved to Gaylord, Michigan, from the metro Detroit area in 2000 to set up a home office, he couldn’t have dreamed that the tiny eyeball camera that came with his new computer would change his life. Forever.
For years, Borton had visited his uncle who lived in Gaylord to enjoy the snowmobiling and skiing the area offered. He finally came back one summer to discover golf courses and amazing outdoor activities that had nothing to do with snow, and he was hooked.
“I knew it was where I wanted to live one day,” said Borton.
Borton and his wife Brenda, who are Great Lake Energy Co-op members, first bought their place in 1995 and finally moved in full-time in 2000. He was able to work remotely and got to setting up a home office. His new computer came with an eyeball camera. One day he was looking out his office window, enjoying the view, when he thought his family and friends back in the big city might enjoy the peaceful landscape he saw from his office chair.
“The camera couldn’t track, didn’t zoom in. It was nothing special,” said Borton. “It literally just looked out to our back property and the bird feeder nearby.”
As Borton dazzled his family with the natural wonders of northern Michigan, he upped his game in 2006 when he built and installed a wooden snowman that became the featured character in the video feed. The snowman joined the passing deer, turkeys, foxes, coyotes, black bears, flying squirrels, porcupines, and other wildlife that casually hung out and often partook of the fallen birdseed from the feeder.
Eventually, Borton was contacted by EarthCam, a streaming service, that offered to post his video feed for more individuals to enjoy. With temperamental internet and a desire to share the slice of heaven that is northern Michigan, Borton uploaded his Snowman Cam. He was shocked to see the feed gain a worldwide audience—including mentions on The Weather Channel and dozens of television stations—and, ultimately, millions of views year after year. It seems like an idyllic end to a heartwarming story, but that wasn’t the end.
“One day, I get a knock on the door,” said Borton. “It was a conservation officer from the Department of Natural Resources Michigan who had been called in to investigate a report of deer baiting.”
While many deer had partaken in the errant bird feed just eight feet from Borton’s back door, it hardly qualified as “baiting.” The officer took one look, apologized, and went on his way.
Borton went back to work and life, but then the officer returned and said he needed to give Borton a ticket for the deer baiting. While the two of them were equally baffled, the ticket was issued. But that wasn’t the end of the story either.
Borton disputed the ticket and ultimately went to court, where the judge threw out the charges. State officials asked that Borton just take down the Snowman Cam so that they wouldn’t get calls about baiting any more. Borton refused.
“It just seemed wrong,” said Borton. “No one could come up with a good reason to take down the camera and it felt like most of the system agreed. That, in fact, it was the law that should change.”
For someone who had moved to get away from folks, Borton suddenly found himself in an election for county commissioner, which would put him in the middle of people and their daily struggles.
“I had never, not ever, considered running for a political office,” said Borton. “But what I found as I got into community politics is that it wasn’t about the negativity you see on TV, it was about helping people.”
In 2020, Borton’s state representative could not seek re-election because of term limits. He seized the opportunity and made a successful bid to be elected to the 105th District seat in the Michigan House of Representatives. He was re-elected to a second term in 2022.
“If it hadn’t been for the Snowman Cam, I would have never found myself in this position,” said Borton. “And this position allows me to help people every single day. It’s a privilege I never dreamed of.”