The current marketing campaign for the State of Michigan is “Pure Michigan”. Ads like this one feature Michigan native Tim Allen doing the sentimental voice-over narration while the imagery is always during the fall, with the video slowed down and the sun glinting off the water.
It’s marketing, and marketing will tend to show only the good stuff. As native Michiganders we know the whole story - the failing roads, the abandonment of Detroit, the struggle to recover from a manufacturing-based economy.
But if there is any place in the lower Peninsula of Michigan that more fully embodies the feeling behind “Pure Michigan” it has to be Ludington State Park.
The park has all of the classic Michigan ingredients - Lake Michigan, a lighthouse, dunes, a dam, a river, an inland lake, woods, trails, and deer all compressed into one walkable and bikable state park. It’s one of the most popular in the state - you can reserve spots six months in advance and if you want to camp there during the prime season you have to be online 6 months to the day of when you want to be there.
I’ve been going to this park for years. When I was a young boy the state used to allow “snagging” of the salmon that were coming upstream to spawn, as they would die trying anyway. Snagging is where the fisherman uses a 3-sided hook, casts in, then rhythmically yanks the hook while reeling it in, in hopes of catching any part of the fish with the hook. It was very popular for a few years - so much so that they had to create a lottery system to not have too many people doing it while giving everyone a fair shot. I remember people lined up and down the banks of the Au Sable river, standing 5-6 feet apart with long poles all jerking at different times. Some years the take was good - I remember photos of my dad and neighbor posing with dozens of fish laid out before them on the ground.
Over the years we’ve camped here with the kids and I’ve also rented cabins at the park for sabbatical / focused work sessions. We’ve also just come up for day trips on a nice fall day, having a fire at an unused campsite and doing some hiking through the trails.
This wasn’t a planned stop, but with Michigan fall color approaching peak, a forecast of sunny and mid-70’s this week, and a spare couple of days before having to be home for doctors and dentists appointments we managed to sneak in a two-nighter here. We cooked out on a rare (for us) campfire, played on the shores of Lake Michigan, hiked our favorite trails (The Ridge Trail / Island Trail loop), watched giant Salmon being caught by the dam, and caught a classic Michigan sunset.
It’s funny - we were on the beach along the Atlantic coast, the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific coast, and the Straights of Juan de Fuca - and all in all we’ll take our home beach any day. Clean golden sand, fresh water, no smell, no sand fleas, great sunsets - it’s really hard to top the summertime beach appeal of West Michigan.
Next stop - the last RV park before moving back into our house for the winter!