19 Things You May Not Know About Wilderness State Park
With the passage of Public Act 218 signed by Governor Albert Sleeper on May 12, 1919, the Michigan State Park Commission was officially organized…making this year the unit’s 100th Anniversary!
Yet, there were two parks under state control prior to that act…according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website (www.michigan.gov/dnr). The first was Interlochen State Park, which was purchased by the state in 1917. It was the first public park to be transferred to the commission in 1920 and there is considered by some to be Michigan’s “first state park.”
Others consider Mackinac Island as Michigan’s first state park which park officials say is also true.
“Approximately 25 years before legislation established the state park commission, the federal government gifted the Mackinac Island property it owned to the state in 1895. The island was designated as Michigan’s first state park under the Mackinac State Park Commission. Because Mackinac Island is operated under the Mackinac State Park Commission and was not placed under the Michigan State Park Commission, there is more than one answer to the ‘first state park’ question.”
The State of Michigan began acquiring the land for Wilderness State Park in Mackinaw City back in 1896, through purchase and tax reversion proceedings. In the early twentieth century, the site operated as Emmet State Game Refuge, with the land set aside for the breeding of game birds and other animals. When the reserve was placed under the administration of the Parks Division in 1927, it officially became Wilderness State Park.
This year, Michigan State Parks collectively celebrates its Centennial Year…including Wilderness State Park. We thought we’d share a bit more history about this park, which you may or may not be aware of.
Did you know that Wilderness State Park…
- is located in Bliss Township, Emmet County?
- is open year-round?
- encompasses 10,512 acres – including 2,582 acres of natural areas and 4,492 acres of wilderness area?
- was home to a Civilian Conservation Corps camp between 1933 and 1937 (during the Great Depression) and over time consisted of sixteen buildings? This group was also instrumental establishing eight miles of trails, a public campground, and the four-acre Goose Pond.
- operated under the direction of the State of Michigan Corrections Commission? Camp Wilderness became a minimum-security forest prison camp in 1949 until it was moved in 1956 to nearby Pellston (as Camp Pellston).
- today includes a 250-site campground, three rustic bunkhouses and nine rustic cabins?
- has diverse forested dune, swale complexes, and wetlands (including areas known to grow threatened plant life like the Pitcher’s Thistle and Houghton’s Goldenrod)?
- Dedicates almost the entire shoreline of the proposed natural areas as critical habitat for the federally-endangered piping plover?
- is home to American black bear, beaver, bobcats, mink, muskrats, otter and other animals?
- had one of the first sightings of wolves in the Lower Peninsula. reported along the park’s shoreline by a Coast Guard pilot in 1997?
- offers 16 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking?
- includes a 10-mile section of the North Country National Scenic Trail, which traverses 4600 miles through 7 states?
- offers winter activities like cross country skiing, snowshoeing and even snowmobiling?
- features 26 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline?
- includes 2 islands: Temperance Island and Waugoshance Island?
- has four Lake Michigan lighthouses that sit near the park’s western boundary: Grays Reef, Skillagalee Island, White Shoal (which is now open for public tours) and Waugoshance (which is rumored to be haunted)?
- was designated a Michigan “dark sky preserve” in 2012 and is located near the Headlands International Dark Sky Park (making it an ideal location for star gazing and looking at Northern Lights)?
- is one of the handful of places along the shoreline where you can find the elusive Petoskey Stone?
- is a great place for tech-based activities like geocaching and metal detecting?
For more about Wilderness State Park: https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-350-79133_79200_31427-54042–,00.html
For more about Emmet State Game Refuge: https://northernmichmashpreserve.weebly.com/parks-and-recreation.html
For more about the Michigan State Parks Centennial, visit: https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-350-79133_79205_85747—,00.html.
For more about accommodations, dining and other activities in the Straits of Mackinac Area: https://www.mackinawcity.com/.
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Experience Michigan Trails Week in the Straits of Mackinac
A new season is upon us and throughout the Straits of Mackinac area, acres of woodlands surround scenic trails ideal for exploring during the fall color tour season—especially during Michigan Trails Week, September 22-29. Michigan Trails Week concludes on National Public Lands Day, a day for volunteer-led efforts to beautiful and build awareness about the value and breadth of U.S. public lands.
Michigan State Parks and Recreation Areas in Northern Michigan offer some of the best outdoor recreation opportunities in the Midwest. One of the most enjoyed activities is hiking, whether for exercise, nature observation or while on a backpacking trip. Some of the best hiking opportunities exist in the Mackinaw City area south of the Mackinac Bridge and once you cross into the Upper Peninsula.
A few of the key spots to visit for a hiking excursion include:
An Emmet County Park on the Straits of Mackinac. The Headlands property is made up of nearly 600 acres of forested lands, four miles of trails and two miles of beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline including Michigan’s only Dark Sky Park. You will experience breathtaking sunsets, pristine lakeshores and natural surroundings full of wildlife. St. Helena’s Island, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the Mackinac Bridge, Waugoshance Point, Wilderness State Park, Cecil Bay and Trails End Bay are all visible from the shores of the Headlands. The Headlands has been painstakingly preserved by local residents and groups for your enjoyment.
Wilderness State Park:
Offering 12 miles of designated foot trails that weave throughout the park, Wilderness State Park boasts several marked trails include Sturgeon Bay Trail, Swamp Line, Boundary Trail, Nebo Trail, Pondside Trail, Red Pine Trail, Hemlock Trail and Big Stone Trail. Check with the DNR staff first, as parts of the shoreline are closed in the spring and early summer when the endangered Piping Plover is nesting. It is also suggested you request a complete hiking map to fully enjoy the sites and trails. This is a wonderful area to explore the ecosystem of the Great Lakes meeting the great hard woods of Northern Michigan.
Situated on over 600 acres of beautiful forests, wildflowers and scenic views, Mill Creek State Historic Park is also home a reconstructed sawmill. The park has 1.5 miles of trails including a half-mile nature trail that borders the creek and passes two scenic overlooks from where the Straits of Mackinac and Mackinac Island can be viewed. Departing from the nature trail is a mile-long spur to a beaver pond. Interestingly enough, Mill Creek has a one of a kind mile loop nature trail that is totally handicap accessible.
There are 140 miles of roads and trails on Mackinac Island with many of them designated for foot traffic only, as there are no motor vehicles allowed on the Island. The majority of them are paved roads that are shared by bicyclists, carriages and pedestrians. The longest walk is the “Round the Shore” trip, an 8.2-mile journey along Lake Shore Road which takes you by many natural features of the Island and shows off the breathtaking scenic shoreline. Other popular routes are “Across the Turtle’s Back,” “A Tranquil Bluff Trail” and “British Landing Nature Trail.” For detailed trail maps, purchase a Historic Visitor’s Guide to Mackinac Island on the ferry boat or at the Mackinac Historic Park Visitor Centers, for $1.00.
North Country Trail:
The North Country National Scenic Trail passes through seven northern states, from New York to North Dakota—traveling extensively through Michigan’s two peninsulas. When completed, the 4600-mile trail will be the longest continuous hiking trail in the United States. Coming out of Petoskey, the trail travels through Mackinac State Forest and Wilderness State Park where it follows the Lake Michigan Shoreline to Mackinaw City. The trail enters town on the southern border and its entire one-mile stretch inside the village is also a paved DNR Rails-to-Trails project named the North Western State Trail. From the trailhead there is also access to the DNR’s North Central State Trail, which will take you from Mackinaw City south to Gaylord. For those wanting to continue north via the Mackinac Bridge, The Bridge Authority provides a shuttle to the trail’s Upper Peninsula connector.
For lodging reservations for this weekend, or throughout the fall season, visit MackinawCity.com/stay/.
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PHOTO: Photo by Kathryn Bartoszyk courtesy of Michigan Trails Magazine.