The Great Lake state offers plenty of outdoor adventures

By David V. Grahamlower-tahquanemon-falls

Michigan is one of the few states that is instantly recognizable on any map of the United States. Or, for that matter, from outer space.
Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, surrounded by three of the five Great Lakes, resembles a mitten, so much so that many Michigan residents, when asked where they live, will show you their palm and point to a spot somewhere on their hand. I live, for instance, at the base of your thumb near Flint, the city made infamous by filmmaker Michael Moore some years ago.
Water is one of several defining aspects of this state, which is hosting the OWAA conference in Grand Rapids June 13-16, 2009. Grand Rapids, by the way, is about an inch inside from the south-central part of your palm’s “western” shoreline.
This is a conference you aren’t going to want to miss, if only for a chance to see and experience the Great Lakes.
Back in the 1980s, I had a chance to interview Michigan Gov. James Blanchard about tourism. He told me an interesting story that I’ve always remembered.
He said he once went to a dinner party attended by the late Katherine Graham, publisher of The Washington Post. They got into a conversation about Michigan, and Blanchard told her about the Great Lakes.
“She couldn’t believe it when I told her that you could stand on the shoreline of any of the Great Lakes and that you couldn’t see the other side,” he said, smiling. “Here was a woman who had traveled all over the world, and she just couldn’t believe that they were that big.”
They are just big! In fact, that they represent about 90 percent of the U.S.’s surface freshwater, and nearly 20 percent of the world’s. Anyone who has seen a big storm on the Great Lakes has no trouble understanding how a 729-foot ore carrier, the Edmund Fitzgerald, could sink on Lake Superior in 1975 so fast that its crew of 30 men didn’t have a chance to escape.
Holland LighthouseWith 116 lighthouses on its share of the Great Lakes, Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state. You are never more than 85 miles from a Great Lake anywhere in Michigan. In fact, you can’t travel more than seven miles in any direction in Michigan without encountering water in the shape of a river, stream, pond, lake or swamp.
Michigan is home to 36,350 miles of rivers and streams, which include several of the nation’s top trout fishing waterways. There are about 150 waterfalls on those rivers, and the state also has 11,037 lakes that cover some 1,305 square miles.
Not surprisingly, Michigan ranks in the top three states in the country for boat registration. The state boasts salmon and lake trout fisheries on the Great Lakes and world-class walleye and bass fishing on Saginaw Bay and Lake Erie. It’s no wonder the state ranks fifth in the number of fishing license sales.
The Great Lakes are also home to some of the most magnificent freshwater islands in the world, including the famed Isle Royale in Lake Superior, about 60 miles north of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Isle Royale is the country’s least-visited national park, with generally less than 20,000 visitors a year. It gets so few visitors in large part because it is accessible only by boat or airplane. It is well worth getting there, however, in part because it is home to a large moose population that is kept in check by a couple dozen wolves.
With a rocky coastline much like the Atlantic coast of Maine, Isle Royale is a dream for both nature photographers and backpackers. Other national parks well worth visiting here are Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore along the north shore of the Upper Peninsula, and Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore on the northwest coast of the Lower.sleeping-bear-dunes
There are several other notable islands in the Great Lakes, including North and South Manitou islands in northern Lake Michigan. These wilderness islands are part of the Sleeping Bear national lakeshore and are both open to backpackers and hikers.
Just north of those islands is Beaver Island, the 19th century home of the only “kingdom” in the United States. Now it is known as the largest remote inhabited island on the American side of the Great Lakes. Just east of Beaver Island is Mackinac Island, home to early American history dating back to the French fur trading era.
Michigan is also the location of some of the most extensive state and national forests in the country. Along with private forestlands open to the public in return for tax breaks, some 19.3 million acres of land are open to the public for a wide variety of outdoor recreational purposes. Many of the 600 campgrounds in Michigan, for instance, are located in state and national forests.
In addition, miles of former railroad beds have been converted in recent years to paved or graveled bicycling and hiking paths. In fact, Michigan ranks second in the country for miles of rails-to-trails conversions, contributing to some 1,300 miles of designated hiking and biking trails, many of which run through those state and national forests. ◊
David V. Graham retired as an outdoor writer from the Flint Journal but continues to write part time and freelance for such publications as True North magazine. Contact him at

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