Defined by water

A view of the Soo Locks and the International Bridge at Sault Ste. Marie are shown. (Michigan Department of Transportation photo)

The northeastern corner of the Upper Peninsula is a place defined by water.

From the local Ojibwa, who came to the head of the rapids to net whitefish, to the fur-trading French who came here looking for an inland passage through North America, the water resources were prized greatly in the area around modern-day Sault Ste. Marie – the oldest white settlement in Michigan.

Two French Jesuit fathers named the falls at the outlet of Lake Superior in honor of the Virgin Mary — Sault de Sainte Marie, the “rapids of Saint Mary.” The Ojibwa called the place Pawating, which meant “at the head of the rapids.”

The river fans around a big corner from Point Louise in neighboring Ontario, rolling on east toward the Vidal Shoals and Ashmun Bay before the great rapids appear at the Soo Locks and the International Bridge to Canada.

Off Mission Point, the river splits, with one arm stretching north around Sugar Island to Little Lake George, while another rolls south past Whitehead Island off Sugar Island’s western shore, continuing downstream past Six Mile Point into Lake Nicolet.

An early season visitor combs the sandy beach at Brimley State Park in Chippewa County. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

Farther south lay the treasured beauty of Munuscong Bay, the Moon Islands off Winter Point and the up- and down-bound shipping channels on either side of Neebish Island.

Along with the cabins and peacefulness of Lime Island farther south, this entire area draws a variety of visitors typically linked in some way to the waters here. There’s plenty of good fishing, paddling and boating in addition to watching the gigantic Great Lakes freighters slide past within the shipping channels, close-up, like silent ghosts.

Sault Ste. Marie itself is home to several historical and cultural attractions, including the Tower of History, Museum Ship Valley Camp and the Soo Locks. There are numerous restaurants, lodging and other attractions available.

Not far to the west of Sault Ste. Marie is a former station on the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railway. The U.S. Postal Service had its Superior office there until the name was changed to that of a post office official in the nation’s capital.

Since that time, the place has been known as Brimley, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources operates one of the Upper Peninsula’s earliest state parks there on the south shore of Lake Superior.

Picnickers enjoy a sunny afternoon at Brimley State Park in Chippewa County. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

Brimley has always been known for its opportunities for pleasant camping and picnicking, views of Great Lakes freighters and the Ontario coastline, along with shallow, comparatively warm Lake Superior waters for swimming.

This year, and specifically this week, the DNR is commemorating the centennial of Michigan state parks, of which Brimley was among the early favorites as popularity of parks grew with the affordability and increased use of automobiles in the early 1900s.

On May 12, 1919, the Michigan Legislature established the Michigan State Park Commission to oversee, acquire and maintain public lands for state parks.

“A hundred years ago, people in Michigan were rallying to protect the state’s most beautiful outdoor destinations,” said Ron Olson, chief of the DNR Parks and Recreation Division. “Fast forward through time and you’ll find that generations of residents and visitors have fallen in love with these treasured natural places.”

P.J. Hoffmaster, Michigan’s first superintendent of state parks, said the appearance of “No Trespassing” and “Private Property, Keep Out” signs had been a growing one, “all tending toward an approaching era of exclusion of the great mass of our residents and visitors from wonderful recreational advantages offered by the state.

The sign at the entrance to Brimley State Park. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

“Through this (creation of the state parks), if nothing else, has come the setting aside of tracts of land and water by the people for the use and enjoyment of all.”

Throughout the centennial celebration year, visitors will undoubtedly flock to Brimley and the other 102 fabulous state parks Michigan has to offer. Canadians are among the regulars at Brimley State Park, with Ontario situated so near across the St. Marys River.

Whether taking a long hammock nap on a warm afternoon, flipping hamburgers on a campsite grill, fishing for Atlantic salmon from a local charter boat or watching the freighter lights slowly move past on Lake Superior, the northeastern corner of the U.P. in Chippewa County is a great place to visit.

Many visitors use Brimley State Park as a jumping-off point to adventures within this part of the region, including trips to several other nearby state parks and state forest campgrounds, the Mackinac Bridge, Tahquamenon Falls or Whitefish Point, all of which are easily reached from here.

Out here at the Sault, which is French for “falling water,” this strategic area was home to fur-trading and fishing centers, the military’s Fort Brady and an old “strap railroad” that used mules and horses to pull carts full of goods around the rapids, before the mighty Soo Locks were built.

As it was in the past, so it remains, this area’s reliance on the wonderful attributes of water and the life surrounding it.