Lake Huron is so accessible. There are good public beaches in Au Gres, Tawas, and Oscoda and all the way up to the bridge — wonderful pull-outs where people can go and just enjoy,” observed Mike Hayes, president/CEO of the Midland Center for the Arts in Midland, who owns a second home south of Oscoda on Lake Huron.
The former state representative and current member of the State Transportation Commission added that while there’s also no shortage of quaint hamlets to explore, the unspoiled, pristine lands along U.S. 23 are what attract him most.
“My wife and I don’t want to be around a whole bunch of cities and resorts when we’re relaxing,” he shared. “We’d rather be in a less-developed, peaceful area where we can swim and bird and enjoy the beauty of every different season.”
Not to mention the most spectacular sunrises.
In Michigan, there may also be no better place to get a crash course in Great Lakes maritime history than on the Sunrise Coast, where lake freighters are often seen on the far horizon. Every long-term Rogers City resident knows a family affected by the sinking of the Bradley in 1958 and the Cedarville in 1965 when 43 local men went down with their ships.
The lumbering history in these port towns — including such tragedies — have helped develop the character of these hard-working residents, too. Though Alpena was almost destroyed by fire four times, its steadfast residents repeatedly rebuilt their homes and mills and kept shipping lumber out of their harbor. Two other lumber communities — Au Sable and Oscoda — witnessed lives lost and watched their buildings burn in 1910 when a fire swept in upon the twin towns as well. But they, too, rebuilt.
Driving from Standish to Mackinaw City up U.S. Heritage Route 23, you need to slow down to really appreciate this series of little towns. There are lumber barons’ stone mansions and a variety of museums manned by knowledgeable staff; many of these arts and cultural area attractions can be discovered through ARTown Michigan. But along this eastern coastline —including the counties of Arenac, Iosco, Alcona, Alpena, Presque Isle, and Cheboygan — are also 200 miles of forests and wetlands.
Much of this natural beauty has been preserved in nine state parks, including undeveloped ones like Thompson’s Harbor and Negwegon, which feature miles of spectacular Lake Huron shoreline but rarely a nearby hiker within shouting distance. And while Mackinac Island in the Straits is the state’s most visited, the Sunrise Coast has islands of its own to explore. Visitors can venture out ten miles by boat to Charity Island in Saginaw Bay to explore the 222-acre island that is part of the Michigan Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
Last fall, Metro Detroit area photographer Jeff Garland embarked on U.S. 23. Along his peaceful journey he encountered residents fishing and biking. He met a couple who spent half an hour sharing friendly insights such as where to find salmon (in the river running through Harrisville) and the best treats to eat (cider donuts at Knaebe’s in Rogers City).
And he discovered that while northeastern Michigan’s shoreline may be the side less travelled, taking the slow road up to the Straits on U.S. 23 is not only the way to embrace the state’s maritime legacy, but better appreciate the natural beauty today. ≈