A Special Place

Bay City’s Tobico Marsh a gem of national importance // Photography by Craig Sterken

With its vernal pools and hushed wet meadows, Tobico Marsh seems like a tantalizingly secret place. But this special Michigan attraction is just four miles off the I-75 freeway near Bay City.

“I enjoy the peacefulness and serenity of Tobico, in all seasons,” said Kathy Woods Booth, a member of the Friends of Bay City State Park. “It is never a disappointment. It is nice to see people enjoying Tobico and breathing in the moments.”

Tobico Marsh is among the state’s last and largest coastal marshes. It owes its existence to having been a private hunting club for decades. The club’s last member, Frank Andersen, donated the marsh to the state in 1957. Today it is part of Bay City State Park and home to shorebirds, beavers, otters, turtles, mink, deer, muskrats and frogs. It is a spawning ground for northern pike and other fish.

“It’s a Great Lakes freshwater coastal marshland, and we’ve lost over 75% of those,” said Jonathan Massung, park interpreter. “It’s one of the last remaining examples of something that used to be common in our state.”

Tobico can be visited for a few hours or fill a whole day. The most popular trail, a nearly mile-long loop, takes visitors around the Tobico Lagoon. The trail links to a sandy beach on Saginaw Bay. A T-shaped pier in the lagoon offers fine fishing and scenic photos.

People with more time can hike or cycle the 3-mile, partly paved Andersen Trail. It connects to the Tobico Marsh loop, a 4-mile trail through a hardwood forest.  Two tall observation towers give visitors a view of the marsh, forest and water.

“It seems like every time I go down there, there’s another trail,” said Joe Sheals of Midland, who visits often. “It’s so cool. You see tons of birds and turtles.”

Birders love Tobico Marsh for the hundreds of thousands of migrating birds that pass through and stop over each spring and fall. Bald eagles returned in 2012 as residents, and rare birds like the yellow-headed blackbird also nest here. In summer, the trees are filled with song. Last year, the park had a family visit from China, Massung said. The bird they most wanted to glimpse: the robin.

Near the lagoon is the Saginaw Bay visitors center, with a gift shop, auditorium and exhibit hall. It displays the state’s only known wolverine. Found living in the wild in Sanilac County, she was mounted when she died in 2010. Although Michigan is called the “Wolverine State,” none were seen here for about 200 years — until her.

Tobico Marsh is part of Bay City State Park. Just north of Bay City, the park is connected to the Bay County Riverwalk/Rail trail system. The park has 192 campsites, a splash park and playscapes, fishing, archery, hiking, the beach and the marsh. An annual Waterfowl Festival is held in August.

The 1,019-acre Tobico Marsh complex was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1976 by the U.S. Department of Interior for its rarity.

For visitor information: see michigan.gov/dnr

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