Park to celebrate golden aniversary, namesake

CHAMPION – Van Riper State Park will celebrate Independence Day today with several activities, followed by a golden anniversary celebration Saturday, honoring the park’s namesake with Van Riper Day.

The state park is located 35 miles west of Marquette along U.S. 41 in western Marquette County and is run by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Today’s Fourth of July activities include a bald eagle program at 11 a.m.; bike decorating at 12:30 p.m. for a 1 p.m. parade through the campground. Decorations will be provided, or visitors can bring their own. At 2 p.m., there will be minnow races; a bounce house from 2 to 4 p.m. and an American flag program at 3 p.m.

On Saturday, the 50th anniversary of the park – situated along the shoreline of Lake Michigamme – will be celebrated.

There will be a history program at 11 a.m. and a bike parade at 1 p.m. in honor of Dr. Paul Van Riper, for whom the park is named.

The Huron Mountain Bakery, the Friends of Van Riper State Park and the Friends of Craig Lake State Park will donate a cake for campers to enjoy at the campground host site immediately after the bike parade.

DNR officials encouraged the public to visit the Michigamme Historical Museum, which features a display dedicated to the late doctor Van Riper. The museum is located at 110 W. Main St.

Van Riper was a country doctor who served the residents of western Marquette County for more than half a century.

In 1970, Van Riper died at age 94. He was the state’s oldest practicing physician at the time of his death. He graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1900.

Van Riper was born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1875 and came to Champion in January 1901 to serve as an assistant to a doctor for the Oliver Iron Mining Company.

The mining company doctor retired two years after Van Riper’s arrival and Van Riper assumed general practioner duties after the mining company left. He traveled by horse-drawn sleigh in the wintertime and on horseback in summer.

Van Riper loved the Lake Michigamme shores west of Champion and sought to make it a swimming beach. There is one story told by park employees that Van Riper was surprised there one day by some kids playing, as he was changing his clothes in the bushes.

This was said to be part of his impetus for developing the beach park with change rooms in the early 1920s.

Van Riper, who served 35 years on the Marquette County Board, was the person most instrumental in the public acquisition of Champion Beach. He persuaded Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company President William G. Mather to gift the property to the local township.

The beach later became county property and a beach pavilion and change house were built here by the county in 1924. The popularity of the beach soared and soon surpassed capacity for a county park.

By 1955, 200,000 persons visited the park each year. In 1956, the park was turned over to the state and dedicated a few years later.

Today, the beautiful half-mile of fine sand beach along the eastern shore of Lake Michigamme remains, though seasonal changes ruined the wooden dock, which eventually had to be removed. A beach house and concession stand are still in place.

The Fourth of July Jubilation at Van Riper State Park is free, although a Recreation Passport is required for all motor vehicles entering the park.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is jpepin@miningjournal.net.