This would be my first trip ever to Michigan – so expectations were high. I’m certainly familiar with its reputation during the winter months as having brutally cold temperatures, and an annual snowfall more commonly measured in feet than in inches. But it is in the summer months that this place really stands out. When it comes to water, Michigan holds many continental US state records. This includes having the most inland lakes at over 11,000, and the most miles of freshwater shoreline at 3,288. It is said from anywhere in Michigan you are never more than 6 miles from freshwater, and no more than 85 miles from a Great Lake. Those facts certainly provide credence to the other Michigan claim to fame – that is having the most boat registrations.
I don’t have any friends or family in Michigan, so I’m left to my own druthers to spend time exploring this state. I frankly thought I had booked two weeks on the east side, but alas it would appear I only booked one week. So, my sightseeing time was limited. I did make good use of my limited time and had the opportunity to explore several east side towns including Bay City, Saginaw, and Frankenmuth, along with my campground host town of Midland. Frankenmuth is a particularly noteworthy town – home to the largest Christmas store in the world. Housing over 2 acres of covered store space and hosting over 2 million shoppers annually, this beautifully landscaped and festive venue was a sight to see. The town itself was settled in the mid 1800’s by travelers from Bavaria, where their German Lutheran roots are reflected in much of the areas architecture, and whose culture and language was passed down through many generations. German speech and signage remains prevalent in the area to this day. A really cool walkable town with lots of shops and restaurants to enjoy. A great place to spend a day.
Also in Frankenmuth you will find “Michigan’s Own Military & Space Museum” – also known as the “Michigan’s Hero Museum”. The mission of this museum is to honor and remember the men and woman from Michigan who had notably risen in the call to serve in the military covering all seven foreign wars from the Spanish-American war, thru and including the war on Terrorism. It has over 140 individual displays featuring notable service members and even astronauts. It is also the nations largest collection on display of Medal of Honor recipients featuring some 31 Michiganians who have been so honored. It was certainly a humbling experience to walk among the displays reading about the history of these legendary “bad asses”. Thank you all for your service!
In several towns, I was able to enjoy both flea markets and farmers markets. There’s nothing better than strolling around a market and finding that special deal on an item, or a container of fresh locally grown produce. While I did not score anything exciting at the flea market, at the farmers market, I did happen to find something totally new to me – Saskatoons. A I strolled by them I first thought they were just blueberries as that is what they looked like. But I was quickly schooled by the vendor who told me they were Saskatoons. These are also known as Juneberries or Serviceberries and are native to Canada and the northern US. Though having an appearance resembling blueberries, they are actually a pomme fruit and are related to apples. So I bought a pint to bring back home, chilled them, washed them, and then commenced to devour them in one sitting. They were delicious – not as sweet as blueberries, but had a distinct flavor. Yummy!
I have to admit, of all the towns I explored, the town of Midland was probably the most enjoyable. It is a small city with a population just over 40,000, and in 2010 was named the 4th best small city to raise a family by Forbes magazine. That does not really come as a surprise. As you drive through the town, you see immaculate parks and playgrounds on seemingly every block. I took a bike ride on a beautifully paved 3.5 mile one way (7 mile round trip) bike trail that linked a massive public park to a nature center. The park was complete with picinic areas, playgrounds, a small water play area, a skateboard and bike park, dog play areas, and more, while the nature center featured hiking trails, filled with signage paying tribute to the local fauna. The park also has the “Tridge” (short for Tri-Bridge?) – a fabulous three-legged foot bridge spanning over Tittabawassee and Chippewa Rivers, and is the trail head to the 3.5 mile bike trail, as well as the 30 mile Pere Marquette Rail Trail – a fully paved hall of fame bike trail. So much fun and so much to offer families in the area. Well done Midland!
I’m starting to learn that no matter where I go, no matter how small a town, there will be some sort of Roadside America attraction to see. Saginaw was home to the burrial site of Robert Heft – self proclaimed designer of the 50 star American flag. Legend has it at the age of 17, a school project led him to cut up then current 48 star flags, and arrange the pieces to form a new 50 star version. This, in anticipation of Alaska and Hawaii being added as states. He then submitted the flag to his congressman, and the legend goes on to suggest his design was accepted and that he was invited to the white house. However, during my research on this, I also found evidence that would suggest that there is no evidence that his actual submission was specifically chosen, but rather was one of several submissions having the same alignment of the stars in alternating rows, which in itself had long since been an established practice. Oh well – he’s got a really cool grave stone anyway! I also visited the downtown Saginaw post office – now a county museum. Wow – they sure did spend lots of money building that post office! What a beautiful building! Sadly, it was a Monday when I visited, and that is the day the museum is closed. I also got to see a large cow at a cheese factory, and of course walked out with lots of cheese from their store. Lastly, I was both delighted and saddened to visit a landmark in honor of Stevie Wonder. The landmark resides in Saginaw where Stevie was born. However, at 4 yrs old when his parents divorced he would relocate to what would become his true hometown of Detroit. Saginaw never really recognized Stevie, and that did not sit well with Lula Briggs-Galloway, a Saginaw County black history preservationist. She opened the Creative Cultural Center and Museum in 2003, and two years later, in its parking lot, she unveiled the Stevie Wonder rock. Sadly Lula died in 2008 and seemingly so too has her cultural museum. It is now boarded up and abandoned, with the grounds overgrown by weeds and the Stevie Wonder monument in sad disrepair. Hopefully someone will step up someday and get this back on track.
Well, I don’t really know what I was thinking when I made the reservations, but clearly a week was not enough time to truly explore the east side of Michigan. Thankfully, I’ve booked 6 weeks for the west side – 2 weeks in Traverse City, and a month in Muskegon. That should be more than enough time to truly see the west side. I’ve just arrived in Traverse City, and already have good vibes that this is going to be a wonderful visit. Time will tell! Till later, safe travels.