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19 Things You May Not Know About Wilderness State Park

With the passage of Public Act 218 signed by Governor Albert Sleeper on May 12, 1919, the Michigan State Park Commission was officially organized…making this year the unit’s 100th Anniversary!

Yet, there were two parks under state control prior to that act…according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website ( The first was Interlochen State Park, which was purchased by the state in 1917. It was the first public park to be transferred to the commission in 1920 and there is considered by some to be Michigan’s “first state park.”

Others consider Mackinac Island as Michigan’s first state park which park officials say is also true.

“Approximately 25 years before legislation established the state park commission, the federal government gifted the Mackinac Island property it owned to the state in 1895. The island was designated as Michigan’s first state park under the Mackinac State Park Commission. Because Mackinac Island is operated under the Mackinac State Park Commission and was not placed under the Michigan State Park Commission, there is more than one answer to the ‘first state park’ question.”

The State of Michigan began acquiring the land for Wilderness State Park in Mackinaw City back in 1896, through purchase and tax reversion proceedings. In the early twentieth century, the site operated as Emmet State Game Refuge, with the land set aside for the breeding of game birds and other animals. When the reserve was placed under the administration of the Parks Division in 1927, it officially became Wilderness State Park.

This year, Michigan State Parks collectively celebrates its Centennial Year…including Wilderness State Park. We thought we’d share a bit more history about this park, which you may or may not be aware of.

Did you know that Wilderness State Park…

  1. is located in Bliss Township, Emmet County?
  2. is open year-round?
  3. encompasses 10,512 acres – including 2,582 acres of natural areas and 4,492 acres of wilderness area?
  4. was home to a Civilian Conservation Corps camp between 1933 and 1937 (during the Great Depression) and over time consisted of sixteen buildings? This group was also instrumental establishing eight miles of trails, a public campground, and the four-acre Goose Pond.
  5. operated under the direction of the State of Michigan Corrections Commission? Camp Wilderness became a minimum-security forest prison camp in 1949 until it was moved in 1956 to nearby Pellston (as Camp Pellston).
  6. today includes a 250-site campground, three rustic bunkhouses and nine rustic cabins?
  7. has diverse forested dune, swale complexes, and wetlands (including areas known to grow threatened plant life like the Pitcher’s Thistle and Houghton’s Goldenrod)?
  8. Dedicates almost the entire shoreline of the proposed natural areas as critical habitat for the federally-endangered piping plover?
  9. is home to American black bear, beaver, bobcats, mink, muskrats, otter and other animals?
  10. had one of the first sightings of wolves in the Lower Peninsula. reported along the park’s shoreline by a Coast Guard pilot in 1997?
  11. offers 16 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking?
  12. includes a 10-mile section of the North Country National Scenic Trail, which traverses 4600 miles through 7 states?
  13. offers winter activities like cross country skiing, snowshoeing and even snowmobiling?
  14. features 26 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline?
  15. includes 2 islands: Temperance Island and Waugoshance Island?
  16. has four Lake Michigan lighthouses that sit near the park’s western boundary: Grays Reef, Skillagalee Island, White Shoal (which is now open for public tours) and Waugoshance (which is rumored to be haunted)?
  17. was designated a Michigan “dark sky preserve” in 2012 and is located near the Headlands International Dark Sky Park (making it an ideal location for star gazing and looking at Northern Lights)?
  18. is one of the handful of places along the shoreline where you can find the elusive Petoskey Stone?
  19. is a great place for tech-based activities like geocaching and metal detecting?

For more about Wilderness State Park:,4570,7-350-79133_79200_31427-54042–,00.html

For more about Emmet State Game Refuge:

For more about the Michigan State Parks Centennial, visit:,4570,7-350-79133_79205_85747—,00.html.

For more about accommodations, dining and other activities in the Straits of Mackinac Area:

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