The COVID-19 pandemic’s disruptions on life have been immeasurable. And, with each new challenge brought on by the coronavirus, we seek to find new adaptions and innovations to carry on with some semblance of normality. This has certainly brought on a range of emotions, from hope to stress. In the past, I sought travel and adventure as a means to find growth and renewal. However, given the current travel restrictions, we’ve had to refocus and look nearby for those similar forms of respite and inspiration. This past weekend, we found that in the Michigan’s Thumb region.
Our goal was simple: explore the Thumb region and see what we could discover. Our state motto is “Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice,” or “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.” Indeed, we rediscovered this truism over the weekend. A day-trip to the Thumb provided us with new discoveries and ideas for the future.
Our first stop on the trip north was to Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park to view Michigan’s largest known collection of early Native American teachings carved in stone (“Ezhibiigaadek Asin,” in Anishinaabemowin). Due to the pandemic, visitation into the covered area housing the stone carvings was restricted to ten people at a time. Therefore, a guide was stationed in the queuing area to provide some historical context while a second guide was at the carvings to help provide interpretation. It was nice to have some history and context to help better understand what we were seeing. However, it did dawn on me that we were learning about indigenous history from non-indigenous educators/historians. Given the site is co-managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Division, the Michigan History Center, and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, it would be nice to see a program created that provided Native American elders and youth the opportunity to serve as guides at the petroglyphs. It would serve as a means of cultural empowerment and ensuring that history is told from an indigenous perspective.
Another highlight from our trip to the Thumb was discovering the 53North Barn Art Project. I was pleased to learn Jim Boyle, a native of Port Austin and a mainstay in Detroit’s art and entrepreneurial communities, was behind this endeavor. The project was launched in 2013 with the goal of creating 10 barn art projects in 10 years. Working in collaboration with the owners of various disused structures, the project aims to transform them into art objects that preserve the structures and serve as a draw for tourism. After reading various articles on the project (here, here, and here), I was struck by the parallels Boyle draws between urban and rural; in this case, Port Austin and Detroit. Both locations have experienced financial challenges due to changes in the economy; both have too many abandoned architectural structures; and both locations hope to leverage art and the creative economy as a spark for economic development.
After seven years, three barn projects have come to fruition. All are quite impressive. The projects include: Hygienic Dress League’s “Walden” and “American Gothic” (2013); Scott Hocking’s “Celestial Ship of the North” (2015); and Catie Newell’s “Secret Sky” (2017-2019).
In addition to some great historical and creative sites, the Thumb area has an abundance of natural environments to explore. We enjoyed visits to the Sand Point Nature Preserve and Huron County Nature Center. And, we discovered some new places to return to this fall. We’re hoping to kayak the Point Aux Barques Trail to explore Turnip Rock and some nearby lake caves; to do some birdwatching along the Saginaw Bay Birding Trail; and to explore the night’s sky at the Dark Sky Preserve at Port Crescent State Park.
While the pandemic has put a hold on travel afar, it’s nice to rediscover — and in come cases to discover — some wonderful gems in our proverbial backyard. Indeed, we do live on a wonderful peninsula.