Thursday, August 25, 2016

Time to celebrate Michigan's National Park Service locations

The shores of Lake Michigan as seen from the sand dunes on South Manitou Island, part of
Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. The lakeshore is one of seven sites in Michigan
administered by the National Park Service.
Everyone is celebrating the National Park Service's 100th anniversary today. This date in 1916, Woodrow Wilson created what is now the National Park Service, which oversees America's biggest national treasures.

Here in Michigan, we don't have as many managed NPS sites as some other states. Out of the 59 national parks, only one is located in Michigan. Six other sites overseen by the NPS are located in the state (There are several designations of national park facilities for a reason. Here's a list of why some places are national parks, some are national lakeshores, etc). There are other "national" outdoors areas, such as the Huron National Forest, though those are managed by other entities like the U.S. Forest Service.

During my several decades of exploration as a child and adult, I've been to six of them (well, maybe seven. More at the bottom):

Isle Royale National Park

The sight of Isle Royale in 2005.
Michigan's lone national park is the least-visited one in the Lower 48, seeing only 20,000 visitors a year. It's up there as one of my favorite visited ones in the United States, spending a week there back in 2005. A boat ride of four hours from the Keweenaw Peninsula to the island in the middle of Lake

Superior granted us access to one of the biggest adventures of my life. Waking up next to an inland lake and seeing a moose bathing is a sight you don't soon forget. It's a park I highly recommend visiting if you have time.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the North Country National Scenic Trail

Another top-notch location in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Pictured Rocks is easier to access if you don't want to spend four hours on a boat. Here, there are more than 50 miles of trail, much of it making up the North Country Trail throughout the lakeshore area. I backpacked this stretch in 2006,
going from Grand Marais to Munising. It's a park that has a wide range of sights, including massive sand dunes in the eastern part and beautiful rock formations in the western part.

The North Country Trail, mentioned above, traverses through several states from New York to North Dakota. Running along the western side of the Lower Peninsula before entering the Upper Peninsula, it travels a length of more than 4,600 miles once completed.

Keweenaw National Historical Park
This is a park I know I've visited, but it would have been about 20 years ago on a family vacation as a child, and I honestly don't remember a lot of it. It's one I'd like to go back to and appreciate a bit more as an adult. This area focused more on history of the peninsula on Lake Superior, especially the copper industry that was so important to Michigan for many years.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Located in the northwest portion of the Lower Peninsula, this is a popular spot for so many Michigan residents. It's garnered national attention in the last five years, being named the most beautiful place in the U.S. by Good Morning America in 2011. The dunes are wonderful, yes, though my favorite part of this lakeshore isn't as easily accessible. South Manitou Island, which can be reached after a 90-minute boat ride through Lake Michigan. This island has its own sand dunes, along with giant cedar trees and shipwrecks along the coast. I've been here multiple times, the most recent being 2010.

The one-room schoolhouse in Westland built by Henry Ford.
Motor Cities National Heritage Area
This is one I've been in my entire life, but never realized its existence until just a few months ago. This isn't a specific area per se, but covers several spots in Southeast Michigan important to the development of the automotive industry. These sites have markers at several locations, including near a one-room schoolhouse built by Henry Ford in Westland (soon to be in Livonia) and areas that attracted Detroiters for recreation near Walled Lake in Novi.

River Raisin National Battlefield Park
This is the lone NPS site in Michigan I've yet to have gone to. Located near Monroe on the shores of Lake Erie, this location commemorates the battles that took place there during the War of 1812, where the area was taken captive by the British. This location joined the NPS recently, being placed under its authority in 2010.

Wild card: Mackinac National Park
While not a national park today, most of Michigan's Mackinac Island was once a national park, the second one in the union after Yellowstone. Mackinac Island became a national park in 1875 and was transferred back to the State of Michigan 20 years later when it became a state park.  That designation remains today. It's an island I've been to a few times, though I'd like to go back.The island is worth a visit, not just for the natural scenery, but for the culture, the history, and, if you're into it, the fudge.

What's your favorite national park site in Michigan? 

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