Sturgeon Point Lighthouse Getting Makeover In Time for Memorial Day

Julie Bitely

| 4 min read

A group of Michigan tourism professionals will descend on the small town of Harrisville this week to give some much-needed TLC to a historic lighthouse, just in time for its Memorial Day weekend opening.
The Sturgeon Point Lighthouse is one of two projects that Michigan Cares for Tourism is taking on this year. The volunteer-based program brings tourism industry professionals together to help restore important historic sites in Michigan, while at the same time shining a light on regions and tourist areas that might not otherwise get much attention.
An October event will focus on the Upper Peninsula’s Fayette Historic State Park in Manistique. Past events have cleaned up Mill Lake and Belle Isle.
Keeping History Alive
The Sturgeon Point Lighthouse is located along the coastline of the Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary, the only national freshwater marine sanctuary in the United States. Known as “Shipwreck Alley” the sanctuary is home to approximately 200 shipwrecks, relics from a bygone regional shipping industry. The light tower, keeper’s quarters, and privy remain standing at the lighthouse site.
Linda Klemens, President of the Alcona Historical Society, said one of the first major fishing areas in the state was established at Sturgeon Point, so named because of fishermen warning others to stay away from popular sturgeon spawning locations.
The lighthouse was built in 1869 and first occupied in 1870, Klemens said. The light has shone continuously, although the original oil lamp has been replaced with a contemporary LED version. The lighthouse was manned until 1941, at which point the Coast Guard decommissioned it as ships had moved to sonar and radar to navigate. In 1961 the federal government deeded the property to the state of Michigan. The historical society leased the property and started restorations there in 1982.
Klemens said the historical society has done its best to preserve and protect the lighthouse and surrounding site. She said its location in a beautiful wooded clearing with views of the pristine beach and lake make it an ideal location for picnics and weddings.
“We think that it’s a hidden jewel,” she said. “It’s just a gorgeous setting.”
Having Michigan Cares for Tourism select the site is an exciting opportunity to introduce tourism professionals not only to the lighthouse, but to the entire northeast Michigan region.
“It’s wonderful. We are just so excited that Sturgeon Point was chosen by this group,” Klemens said.
Caring for Overlooked Tourism Gems in Michigan
Patty Janes is a faculty member of the Hospitality and Tourism Management program at Grand Valley State University (GVSU). She coordinates the Michigan Cares for Tourism group, which is a partnership between GVSU, Travel Michigan, the Department of Natural Resources, Driven, and Indian Trails, along with support from the national Tourism Cares organization, which the group is modeled after.
The group is taking on a variety of projects on Tuesday including painting, taking inventory of artifacts at the site, restoring a small boat on the property, installing fencing, cleaning up grounds, spreading woodchips on a trail, and building picnic tables.
“Lighthouses themselves are such an important attraction to our state,” Janes said. “It’s got a lot of history.”
Janes said the program gives volunteers a chance to not only clean up an important historical site, it also exposes them to recreation opportunities throughout the region. On Monday, volunteers will have the opportunity to either go fishing at nearby Cedarbrook Trout Farm or head to an archeology dig at Rockport State Recreation Area.
“The whole Thunder Bay area is fascinating,” Janes said. “Things you can’t do anywhere else in the state, you can do there.”
“That community has the opportunity to be the next hot destination for Michigan,” said Maia Turek, a Recreation Programmer for the state’s Department of Natural Resources.
She said with fishing making a comeback in Lake Huron, tons of scenic trails and unique recreation opportunities such as digging for fossils at Rockport, it’s not hard to envision a future tourist hotspot with a little more awareness of what the region has to offer. The fact that Michigan Cares for Tourism chose the spot could help raise the location’s profile.
“What’s really special about this organization is that they’re choosing destinations that other people might overlook,” she said.
Turek said personally, the area makes her nostalgic for family vacations she remembers taking as a child.
“It gives you a feeling of having your own little corner of the world,” she said.
If you want to see the restored lighthouse and recreation area, it officially opens to visitors on Friday, May 22. The lighthouse is open to visitors Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. through the second week of October. From June 26 through Labor Day weekend, the site is open seven days per week from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free to the lighthouse museum and grounds. If you’d like to climb the tower, there is a $3 charge.
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Photo courtesy of Linda Klemens

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