Michigan Roadside Attractions: The US-127 Michigan Welcome Center in Clare Might Be the Coolest Rest Area in the State
Michigan Roadside Attractions is a periodic feature on Travel the Mitten that will explore the many interesting things that can be found on the highways, byways and back roads of Michigan, ranging from the interesting to the unusual.
For as long as we’ve been taking road trips through Michigan, the great rest areas and welcome centers here have been a part of those trips. The Michigan Department of Transportation maintains more than 70 rest areas through the state, as well as 14 welcome centers. Rest areas are located on major highways and interstates, while welcome centers are typically located by state borders or near major tourist areas. The Michigan Welcome Center on U.S.-127 in Clare is located in the middle of the Lower Peninsula and is unique for several reasons. It can be accessed from either northbound or southbound U.S.-127/U.S. 10, it is home to a replica Mackinac Bridge, and it is home to the Michigan Transportation Employees Memorial. Today we take a look at everything this rest area has to offer and why the U.S. 127 Michigan Welcome Center is the coolest in the state.
Every Michigan Welcome Center offers 24-hour access to restrooms, a well-lit paved parking area, picnic areas, and more. Most have “dog run” areas, pay phones, vending machines, and drinking fountains as well. Things have been a bit different since the COVID-19 pandemic started, but in normal years the welcome centers are also stocked with brochures and travel guides covering points of interest from the entire state. Knowledgable staff are also typically on hand to answer questions and help with travel plans.
Many people stopping at this rest area while headed north are on their way to Mackinaw City. This replica Mackinac Bridge was “built by Mark Jewell’s high school CTE welding class as part of the Clare-Gladwin RESD program in partnership with Mid-Michigan College.”
A Michigan historical marker near the parking lot gives some background on Michigan’s Petroleum Industry and includes a map: “In 1860, State Geologist Alexander Winchell reported that oil and gas deposits lay under Michigan’s surface. First commercial production was at Port Huron, where twenty-two wells were drilled, beginning in 1886. Total output was small. Michigan’s first oil boom was at Saginaw, where production began about 1925. About three hundred wells were drilled here by 1927, when Muskegon’s “Discovery Well” drew oil men the country over to that field. The Mt. Pleasant field, opened in 1928, helped make Michigan one of the leading oil producers of the eastern United States. Mount Pleasant became known as the “Oil Capital of Michigan.” Efforts of the industry itself resulted in excellent state laws regulating petroleum output. Well depths ranged from one thousand to six thousand feet. New wells are constantly opened as exploration continues.”
Behind the Michigan Welcome Center building you will probably notice a lighthouse. If you’ve ever been to St. Ignace you will notice that it looks a lot like that city’s Wawatam Lighthouse. The Wawatam Lighthouse was formerly located at the Michigan Welcome Center in Monroe. These replica lighthouses were placed at Michigan Welcome Centers some years ago to help draw attention to Michigan’s more than 120 lighthouses you can visit. The one here in Clare and one at the welcome center in New Buffalo (I-94) still stand in their original locations.
There are a handful of “Michigan fun facts” plaques spread across the welcome center grounds.
Finally, it is impossible to miss the Michigan Transportation Employees Memorial, a set of metal statues by sculptor Carl Floyd. This pays tribute to those that have lost their life while working on Michigan’s roads, and is a much needed reminder to pay attention and follow posted speeds in construction zones.