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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
- Isle Royale: Facebook
- Keweenaw National Historic Park: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- MotorCities National Heritage Area: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- North County Trail: Facebook, Twitter
- River Raisin National Battlefield Park: Facebook
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Facebook, Twitter
- Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter