Michigan Trail Tuesday: Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Trail, Alpena
Michigan Trail Tuesdays is a new feature that will showcase a different trail or trail segment each week. The Mitten State is home to thousands of miles of trails, including the new Iron Belle Trail that runs from Detroit in the southeast to Ironwood in the western Upper Peninsula.
Many of Michigan’s trails take visitors into forest, alongside the Great Lakes, over rivers and streams, and past stunning natural landmarks. While these trails are all great examples of what our state has to offer, they often overshadow Michigan’s many excellent urban trails and all of their scenic and historic offerings. Today we take a look at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Trail in Alpena, which parallels the Thunder Bay River and does a great job of tying the area’s history to present uses of the river and Lake Huron.
The trail was created through the efforts of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary: “Working with a variety of state and local partners, the sanctuary has established the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Trail. The trail promotes and interprets Northeast Michigan’s rich maritime heritage. By providing innovative interpretation that enhances individuals’ experiences while accessing maritime resources, the trail fosters an appreciation for the Great Lakes and their rich history. The sanctuary has established segments of the trail along the Thunder Bay River, which features a boardwalk and a pedestrian bridge, historically-themed riverfront park, historic docks, and outdoor interpretive signage. Long-range plans are being developed to expand the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Trail along Northeast Michigan’s Lake Huron shoreline.” (https://thunderbay.noaa.gov/)
The trail begins at South Riverfront Park behind the armory on Water St. From there it follows the river north, passing Rotary Island Mill Park and LaMarre Park before crossing the river at 9th Ave. It then heads south along the river on the opposite side, passing through the skate park and then behind the Great Lake Maritime Heritage Center (you may want to pause here and check out the pedestrian bridge over the river). The trail then passes behind the old Fletcher Paper Mill as it works its way to 2nd Ave. You can cross the river here and head back to South Riverfront Park, or take a minute and continue on to check out North Riverfront Park too. The total trail length runs 1.5 to 2 miles, and most of it is also part of the Alpena Bi-Path.
Many plaques have been placed along the trail, giving more information about the shipwrecks in the area as well as how shipping fueled early industry in Alpena and how Lake Huron and the Thunder Bay River have been instrumental in shaping Alpena. Specific shipwrecks are profiled (like the New Orleans, Pewabic, and the E.B. Allen) while others show old photographs of what this area looked like at the peak of industry.
Alpena Shipwreck Tours depart from a dock along the river behind the Maritime Heritage Center. Visitors board the Lady Michigan for a tour that passes over a weather-dependent combination of up to six of the well-preserved shipwrecks out in the bay. Find out more at http://www.alpenashipwrecktours.com/shipwreck-tours/.
Obviously, a visit to the trail should coincide with a visit to the NOAA Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center. This free museum shows the history of area ships and shipwrecks, and you can even experience the challenging Lake Huron waters through an ship exhibit that actually moves! The Alpena Light is an iconic harbor landmark located just a few blocks from the trailhead.