Celebrating 100 Years of the National Parks Service at Michigan’s National Sites

In August, the National Park Service celebrated 100 years of keeping our national sites clean and beautiful. Find out how the 7 National Park Sites in our great state were founded and what to do when you visit, courtesy of guest bloggers representing each of the park sites.

Find Your Park

One hundred years doesn’t come around very often. Indeed, there are few institutions with the staying power of the National Park Service which celebrated that very rare century mark this year.

All year, NPS sites throughout Michigan and beyond are paying tribute to the NPS Centennial – which in fact has been an ongoing celebration since early 2016. The NPS recognizes Founder’s Day as the official birthday of America’s grand institution that serves to preserve and protect its natural wonders.

Each NPS site in Michigan has a truly unique story to tell and offers visitors a chance to escape within a day or less driving distance. Read more about how each park, lakeshore, trail and heritage area were founded as we pay tribute to 100 years.

1. Experience Isle Royale’s unique history and untamed wilderness

Isle Royale National Park, established on April 3, 1940 and designated a National Wilderness in 1976, is the most isolated and wild of Michigan’s seven sites. The park’s stunning vistas are truly a way for visitors to explore wilderness, slow down the pace of life and relax the soul.

The wilderness island has many stories to preserve based around island life and industry. At one time, Isle Royale supported a robust fishing and resort community, and similar to its Keweenaw neighbor, Isle Royale played an important role in the early copper mining industry.

Views of Isle Royale, the least-visited National Park in the nation

Photo Courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

The park has attractions for history buffs as well as outdoor adventurers and hikers. One of the more popular historically preserved sites is the cottage of Elizabeth Kemmer who served coffee and meals to island workers. There are also several beautifully preserved lighthouses on the island such as Rock Harbor.

In celebration of the Centennial, Isle Royale stewards invite adventure-seekers to experience an untamed land for a real escape from life’s hustle and bustle. Here you can enjoy a leisurely guided hike by a park ranger or make unforgettable memories by spotting a moose.

2. Keweenaw: A region shaped by copper

Michigan’s Keweenaw National Historic Park boasts radiant, natural landscapes while also preserving the history of the region’s once vast copper mining industry. In 1992, the National Park Service decided that preserving the natural wonders of the land as well as its history and its assets was important enough to designate the park as a National Historic Park.

The history of Keweenaw’s copper mining dates back at least 7,000 years, and through preservation efforts, industries of long ago such as the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company would be lost to time. According to the park’s enabling legislation, U.S. Congress determined that the Calumet area was essential to telling the story of copper mining on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

The mining industry was once king in the Keweenaw Peninsula

Photo Courtesy of NPS.gov

The Calumet Unit is just one of many enjoyable assets to park patrons, and one of many featured pieces in the park’s day-long Centennial Celebration. While in the area, check out the local bike trails or snowmobile trails if visiting in the winter.

3. Automotive goes beyond Detroit in the MotorCities National Heritage Area

The story of Michigan can hardly be told without including the creation and evolution of the domestic automotive industry. In 1998, U.S. Congress deemed that history to be important enough to require safeguarding, thus the MotorCities National Heritage Area was established by an Act of Congress to preserve, promote and interpret the history of the automotive industry and labor story in southeast Michigan.

The effort to create the MotorCities, originally established as the Automobile National Heritage Area, was led by U.S. Rep. John Dingell and Sen. Carl Levin. The original legislation recognized that, “…the economic strength of our Nation is connected integrally to the vitality of the automobile industry, which employs millions of workers,” and, “the industrial and cultural heritage of the automobile industry in Michigan includes the social history and living cultural traditions of several generations.”

President Bill Clinton signs the Automobile National Heritage Area Act of 1998 creating the MotorCities National Heritage Area.

Photo Courtesy of the MotorCities National Heritage Area

The MotorCities is one of 49 National Heritage Areas in the U.S. and the only one in Michigan. National Heritage Areas are a unique aspect of historic preservation as they protect and promote the country’s most significant historical events that have shaped and impacted culture and economy.

Throughout the Centennial celebration, the MotorCities encouraged would-be adventurers to “Find Your Road Trip,” with a one-of-a-kind tourism guide showcasing 30 automotive historical sites along with Michigan’s National Parks. While there, the world-famous Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village should be near the top of your list of things to see.

To request your own copy of the “Find Your Road Trip” guide, visit motorcities.org/findyourroadtrip.

4. North Country Trail

The state’s only National Scenic Trail, North Country National Scenic Trail stretches across 4,600 miles and seven states – including Michigan. Headquartered in Lowell, North Country Trail was created by the National Trails System Act of 1968 and is administered by the National Park Service.

The NCT is the longest of 11 National Scenic Trails established in the U.S. When the Trail was established in 1980, portions of it were designed to follow the already existing Finger Lakes (New York), Baker (Pennsylvania), and Buckeye (Ohio) Trails. Their sponsoring organizations became affiliates of the North Country Trail Association and agreed to maintain those portions of their trails to be used by the North Country National Scenic Trail.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Loudenslager

Most of the NCT’s activity comes from adventurous hikers who brave the rugged terrain and experience wide variety of terrain, flora, and fauna. The NCT offers everything from a leisurely afternoon stroll to a multiday, rigorous long-distance hiking challenge. In every locale, opportunities abound for bird watching, botany, photography, and wildlife study, either alone or as an experience shared with others seeking the respite of the outdoors.

5. Pictured Rocks: America’s first National Lakeshore

Michigan’s vaunted Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is the state’s oldest National Park unit. Established on Oct. 15, 1966, Congress determined the region was important enough “…to preserve for the benefit, inspiration, education, recreational use, and enjoyment of the public, a significant portion of the diminishing shoreline of the United States and its related geographic and scientific features.”

When President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill, Alger County became the home of America’s first National Lakeshore.

Lovers Leap at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Photo Courtesy of Instagrammer @mc_angela

Protecting the shoreline was a major tenant of the 1966 Congressional Act. The shoreline zone was established to preserve its scenery and outstanding natural features and to provide the benefits of public recreation. The inland buffer zone was created to stabilize and protect the existing character and uses of the land, waters, and other properties. Today, Pictured Rocks is famous for the breathtaking multi-colored sandstone cliffs in which you can kayak to, in addition to a few incredible waterfalls.

Today, stewards of Pictured Rocks work to keep the region’s incredible natural beauty protected while managing ever-increasing visitorship and interest in the park.

6. Discover Michigan’s role in the War of 1812 at River Raisin

The most recent federal land designate in the state, the River Raisin National Battlefield Park was established to preserve the story of the War of 1812 and its impact in southeast Michigan. Congress created River Raisin under the Omnibus Public Land Management Act signed into law on March 30, 2009.

A portrait of the historic River Raisin militia encampment

Photo Courtesy of NPS.gov

The site tells the story of the River Raisin Militia which was called into action during the summer of 1812 to build a military road which was to link Detroit with Ohio. The militia men were the centerpiece of a U.S. force encamped along the north side of the River Raisin when they met a surprise attack on the morning of Jan. 22, 1813 led by 600 British and Canadians and about 800 Native Americans.

A trip to the River Raisin Battlefield Visitor Center will not only be a learning experience for the kids, but it will also be a great adventure. They will love interacting with the soldiers and scenes; they will feel as if they were really there.

7. Preserving Michigan’s maritime history at Sleeping Bear

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is also celebrating its own milestone marking 50 years in 2016. Established by Congress on Oct. 21, 1970, Sleeping Bear Dunes is rich in history from early Native American cultures to the shipping, logging, and agricultural heritage of the area. Even the name of the area comes from the Native American Legend of Sleeping Bear.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of Michigan's most iconic areas

Photo Courtesy of the National Parks Service

Long before there were roads and highways in Michigan, people and goods were being transported regularly on the ships of the Great Lakes. The Manitou Passage (between the Manitou Islands and the mainland) was a busy corridor for commercial shipping. The location of the Manitou Islands made them ideal for a refueling stop for steamers to pick up wood for their boilers. That was one of the driving forces for early settlement of the islands. Docks were built, and trees were cut to fuel the growing Great Lakes Shipping fleet.

The farming legacy of the area is embodied in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District as well as some of the farmsteads on the southern part of the park.

Learn about the logging and farming culture by visiting Glen Haven, the little historic logging village located on the shore of Lake Michigan. There were a number of little logging villages in the area that no longer exist. There isn’t much left of these Ghost Towns, but as you walk around their sites, you will find trace evidence of the people who lived, worked, and played in this country.

How many of Michigan’s seven National Parks Sites have you visited? Share with us by commenting below!

Exploring the Old Mission Peninsula on M-37

Just north of Traverse City, the Old Mission Peninsula is a narrow finger of land extending into the center of Grand Traverse Bay. It’s 22 miles long and in some places as little as a mile wide: a beautiful patchwork of orchards, vineyards, forests and villages that’s especially lovely in fall.

Highway M-37, known by locals as Center Road, shows you the best of this magical place. It’s perfect for a half-day drive that combines fall color with beautiful views, visits to wineries and fruit stands, and unforgettable meals at charming restaurants.

The first winery you’ll encounter is just past the crest of the first hill, it’s the Old Mission vineyard and tasting room of Black Star Farms, established on the site of the former Underwood farm. At the bottom of the hill, rising up on the left, is the Italian stone villa that houses Mari Vineyards, the peninsula’s newest winery.

For the next few miles the road runs along the shoreline with its ducks, docks, birds and boats, then begins to rise again. On the right you’ll see a former one-room schoolhouse. (The Peninsula once had seven of them, and five are still in use.) It’s the tasting room of Peninsula Cellars. Across the road and up the hill is the relaxed new Bonobo Winery.

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

At the summit of the hill, there’s a scenic treat: a lovely overlook with splendid views of both arms of the Bay – a favorite place for watching sunsets, storms and other natural displays. It overlooks the sprawling vineyards of Chateau Grand Traverse, the first winery established on the Peninsula.  As the road descends the hill, continue to enjoy the scenery along with the fruit and vegetable stands that will be increasingly noticeable on both sides of the road. Stop by for some fresh apples, plums, beans, squash and other locally-grown goodies!

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Just ahead is the village of Mapleton, one of the Peninsula’s two small towns, home to the laid-back Peninsula Grill and Bad Dog Deli, as well as a handy grocery store, the Peninsula Market, which has the only gas pump out here.

From Mapleton, the road leads north over a razor-thin bluff known as the Hog’s Back, (with wonderful views of East Bay to the right) and rises even higher to the imposing Chateau Chantal Winery Bed & Breakfast. Over the next hill you’ll find the Old Mission Tavern, a charming eatery that has its own art gallery, the Bella Galleria.

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

One last hill takes you down past cherry orchards, vineyards and tall rows of hops with great views of Old Mission Village to the right. Here, as the highway makes a gentle turn to the east, you’ll enter Lighthouse Park, home to the picturesque Mission Point Lighthouse, built in 1870. Although it is no longer in operation, it is open for tours and is the centerpiece of an attractive park with popular beaches, historical exhibits and extensive hiking trails.

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

What are your favorite memories of the Old Mission Peninsula? Share with us by commenting below!

Blogger Bio: Mike Norton majored in history at the University of Michigan and spent 25 years as a newspaper writer and columnist in Traverse City. For the past decade, he’s been director of media relations at Traverse City Tourism. He lives in the village of Old Mission.

No better time than Autumn in Northern Michigan’s Benzie County

Fall signals its arrival with the slow turning of leaves. Michigan’s 19 million acres of woods crescendo into vibrant crimsons, oranges and golds, finally exploding in their annual blaze of color inviting residents and travelers alike to take the open road.

If you’re looking to plan a Michigan roadtrip to view the colors, (and possibly check out a few events!) read why Benzie County in Northern Michigan is an ideal choice.

Autumn, when crowds retreat, the air is crisp and the landscape is ablaze with color, this is Benzie County, Northern Michigan Preserved®. Our pristine location offers time to reflect and experience the beauty of fall color.  Take the scenic M22 drive, which was named the “Most Scenic Autumn Drive” in the county by readers of USA Today in 2015. The beautiful drive takes you through three northern Michigan counties, Manistee, Benzie and Leelanau and offers multiple opportunities for scenic views of Lake Michigan and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is breathtaking in the fall

Photo Courtesy of the Benzie County Chamber of Commerce

There are many fantastic fall events taking place during October throughout the area. Make your way to Fall Fest in Beulah/Benzonia on October 1 or Fall Fest in Frankfort and the Peak to Peak Mountain biking event on October 8.  Frankfort Beer week runs October 3-8, where you can enjoy delicious craft and seasonal brews and the Frankfort Film Festival (perfect for cinema lovers!) runs from October 20-23.  For ORV-enthusiasts, there are specific Saturday events that allow you to rev up your  ATV’s and 4×4  season long. The local-favorite Pumpkin Run takes place on October 22 and the Haunted Trail Ride (with ghosts, goblins, and more!) will take place  on October 29 at Twisted Trails Off Road Park off of M-115.

Benzie County is an ideal biking destination in the fall

Photo Courtesy of the Benzie County Chamber of Commerce

How about getting a bird’s eye view of the colors?  Every Saturday in October enjoy panoramic views of three counties at Crystal Mountain where you can ride the Crystal Clipper Quad Chairlift to the top of the mountain to enjoy the music.  Or take a tour of the most photographed lighthouse in Michigan, The Point Betsie, who’ll have lighthouse tours October 1-3 and 7-9.

The Point Betsie Light looks beautiful no matter the season

The Point Betsie Light looks beautiful no matter the season

If artisan crafts and foods peak your interest, then there’s no better place than Benzie County. Wineries, Breweries, Distilled Spirits, Artist Galleries and Farms will certainly round out your visit to our area.  So what are you waiting for? Start planning your autumn visit to see us.  Need more of an incentive?  Check out our Benzie Treasure Trove promotion that offers hundreds of dollars in freebies, discounts and gifts from area businesses, just for staying two or more consecutive nights at one of our participating lodging properties.  All the details on events, lodgings, dining, shopping and the Benzie Treasure Trove promotion can be found on our website, www.visitbenzie.com or call us at 800-882-5801.

What is your favorite memory from Benzie County? Share with us by commenting below!