Summertime on the southern shoreline
Across southern portions of Schoolcraft and Delta counties, U.S. 2 skirts the beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline, providing access to a range of places to explore for everyone from campers and birdwatchers to boaters, history buffs and anglers.
The city of Manistique, the county seat in Schoolcraft County, provides some stunning access to Lake Michigan itself.
The Manistique Boardwalk and River Walk stretches for just under 2 miles along the shore, from the eastern edge of the city into the downtown district.
“The boardwalk offers its users a fishing pier, access to the east breakwater light, picnic grounds and abundant nature and wildlife to enjoy,” an interpretive sign at the location states.
Work on the boardwalk project began in 1991, with several extensions and improvements made over subsequent years.
Manistique is also home to trout and salmon fishing in the Manistique River. Fishing and swimming are available at a converted quarry in the downtown area.
Continuing east along U.S. 2 from Manistique, travelers will encounter the shell-covered shores of Lake Michigan at Gulliver. The lighthouse at Seul Choix Point near here is a popular attraction with those interested in maritime history and ghost hunting.
Northwest of Gulliver lay Blaney Park and the 95,000-acre Seney National Wildlife Refuge, where wildlife watching, hunting and fishing are available. The refuge is home to trumpeter swans, eagles, yellow rails, loons, ospreys and other nesting bird and animal species. A 7-mile nature drive brings visitors close to several ponds and the wildlife that inhabit them.
West of Manistique are Palms Book and Indian Lake state parks. The former includes Michigan’s largest free-flowing spring and the latter offers great places for camping, boating and fishing.
The state fish hatchery at Thompson is also nearby.
If you take a turn off U.S. 2 at Garden Corners in Delta County and head south along M-183, the closer you get to Fayette Historic State Park, the further back in time you go.
The 711-acre park is home to a preserved historic townsite, depicting life in a late 19th century iron smelting community along the beautiful shoreline of Lake Michigan.
The townsite, home to iron ore blast furnaces, was named after Fayette Brown of the Jackson Mining Co. Brown was the company agent who chose the site for the town.
“Fayette was once one of the Upper Peninsula’s most productive iron-smelting operations,” according to a park brochure. “Fayette grew up around two blast furnaces, a large dock and several charcoal kilns, after the Civil War.”
The park offers guided tours during the summertime and self-guided tours of the townsite. At one point, Fayette was a booming community that operated the town’s blast furnaces for 24 years, producing a total of 229,288 tons of iron.
The operators used wood from the area’s hardwood forests to fuel the furnaces and the iron ore was purified with the help of limestone quarried from the surrounding bluffs around Fayette.
When the charcoal iron market began to decline, the Jackson Iron Co. closed its Fayette smelting operation in 1891. Walking the historic townsite gives park visitors a real feeling of the community, while at the same time, some of the isolation the town experienced on the Garden Peninsula.
The park features Snail Shell Harbor, a sheltered picturesque harbor adorned with white, dolomite cliffs. Boat camping is offered in Snail Shell Harbor, as well as scuba diving.
Fayette’s residents depended on the town for jobs, housing, medical care and supplies, according to another interpretive display at the park.
“From 1867 to 1891, the furnaces at Fayette produced high-quality charcoal iron for America’s steel industry and supported a bustling immigrant community of nearly 500 residents,” the display read.
Today, more than 20 structures, including the furnace complex, business district and employees’ homes, recall the daily life of this industrial community. The park museum features a large, glass-encased model of the townsite.
In 1916, Jackson Iron Co. successor Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Co. sold its Fayette property to a couple of local businessmen who ran the hotel as a summer resort into the 1940s, according to park literature.
For years, the harbor, docks and warehouses were used by commercial fishermen. The state of Michigan acquired Fayette as a state park in 1959.
The park also offers about 5 miles of hiking trails, a beach day use area at Sand Bay, with playground equipment. On the second Saturday of August, the park is transformed back to its glory days with period displays, food and music during the annual Heritage Day event. The event celebrates the “hey-day” of Fayette.
Additional activities at the park include history programs, geocaching, mountain biking, swimming, paddling and interpretive programs. Facilities include cabins and lodges, a picnic area with a picnic shelter, camping area with just over 60 sites, and a visitor center, which includes a gift shop.
Farther west still along U.S. 2, visitors can find Ogantz Bay, which is home to nesting black ters — gull-like water birds whose numbers are declining. Birdwatchers will also enjoy Peninsula Point, where numerous rarities and other sought-after species are commonly discovered during spring and fall migrations.
In late summer, the point is also a stopping point for thousands of monarch butterflies migrating 1,900 miles to the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico. These beautiful orange and black butterflies wait at Peninsula Point for favorable conditions to float across Lake Michigan.
Offspring of these butterflies, three or four generations down the line, return to the point in the spring.
Summertime is a wonderful time to visit the Lake Michigan shoreline attractions located in and around Manistique.