Take a Road Trip...Community Foundation Style
If you’re like most northern Michiganders, you rarely leave the area in summer time because…well, why would you? And for those who are visitors to the region, you anticipate your trips “up north” with excitement and appreciation for all the area has to offer. With a bit of summer still left, why not try a different kind of road trip; one from the unique perspective of how those who care about northeast Michigan have helped it in the past, and are preserving its future for generations of residents and visitors to enjoy.
As a Community Foundation, our grants and the funds entrusted to us touch literally every corner of northeast Michigan. And as our staff travels about our nine-county service area, we realize what a cool experience a “Community Foundation” road trip could be for those who live in the region, but want to explore it as a tourist, or perhaps get just a short way from home. And for visitors to the area, no matter which town you choose as your base camp, there is so much to explore. Read on, and happy travels! And if you happen to use one of these itineraries, we’d love to see the pictures! Hashtag them #CommunityFoundationRoadTrip. And don’t forget to “give where you live and support where you summer”!
Straits Area Community Foundation
Cheboygan County, Mackinaw City and Bois Blanc Island
Start your day in the City of Cheboygan. Check out some of the cool community art sculptures around town. They definitely make for some cool selfie opportunities! Next, in downtown Cheboygan, right on the river, hop on Plaunt Transporation’s Kristen D ferry for a trek out to Bois Blanc Island in Lake Huron. The Bois Blanc Island Funds are held at SACF, and help those who care about the island to support its fire department, public parks and events (and more). As for Plaunt Transportation, SACF holds the Ray Plaunt Memorial Maritime Scholarship Fund. Ray Plaunt was the owner and a Great Lakes maritime captain for Plaunt Transportation, which is still a family-run business. The fund provides scholarships to students who want to pursue a career in the maritime industry.
Once you get back in Cheboygan, check out a summer concert in the park. These concerts are supported by the Cheboygan Area Chamber of Commerce, which holds an endowment fund to support community education and community programs in Cheboygan. If you need a place to lay your head at night, check out Secrets on Main. This unique bed and breakfast right on Main Street in Cheboygan use to be owned by a former SACF Board Member, Judy Churchill when it was known as The Gables Inn.
Next, head north to Mackinaw City and stop by the Icebreaker Mackinaw Maritime Museum. Several of the exhibits you’ll see were funded in part by SACF Community Impact grants. This decommissioned ice cutting ship now allows visitors a hands-on, up-close look at a working life on the Great Lakes. The museum itself has an endowed fund, the Icebreaker Mackinaw Maritime Museum Fund, to support its needs in perpetuity.
You can’t leave Mackinaw City without fudge, and there are plenty of options to choose from. SACF board members agree the best place to get fudge is Devon’s. They say this is the true “original” fudge. And for a delicious lunch right next to the Mackinac Bridge, try the fresh whitefish at Audie’s Restaurant. Audie’s is a big supporter of SACF, and even established the Audie’s Open Scholarship Fund which they continue to build by holding an annual golf scramble.
If you’re in Mackinaw City on the right evening, take in a summer concert at the park, funded through the Music in Mackinaw Endowment Fund at SACF.
For a special adventure, you can check out the St. Helena Lighthouse, situated in the Straits of Mackinac. A permanent endowment fund was established at SACF by the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association (GLLKA) to restore and preserve this unique lighthouse forever. You can view this lighthouse by car from US-2 west of St. Ignace, by private boat, or depending on the time of year, special tours offered by GLLKA or even Shepler’s ferries.
Next, head west of the bridge to the Mackinaw Historical Village to learn and experience the Straits Area’s unique history. Some buildings on the property were moved to their sites through the help of SACF Community Impact grants. Those grants also supported the creation of the Anishinaabe Medicine Wheel, and several other exhibits. In addition to the grants, the Mackinaw Historical Village is also supported by the Mackinaw Area Historical Society Fund at SACF. Next, head south (I-75 is quick, but we recommend the non-interstate roads for the best views) to Mullett Lake. This beautiful lake does have public access, as well as a great bike trail. So whether you kayak, boat, paddle board or bike, you’ll get to enjoy the beauty of this lake. Care for the lake can be supported through the Friends of West Mullett Lake Fund at SACF. If swimming’s your thing, head west to Indian River (you’ll pass through the cool little town of Topinabee) and head to Burt Lake State Park. It’s beautiful! A grant from SACF helped fund the initial feasibility study of the Burt Lake trails.
If you want to keep going…
Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan
Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency and Presque Isle Counties
Your trip through the CFNEM service area can start in Presque Isle County. Head across M-68 through Onaway toward Rogers City. See that awesome sculpture of a fish in downtown Onaway? That was built by Moran Ironworks, whose Iron One Foundation established the Professional Trade Scholarship Fund, and also received grants for the school’s technology. For obvious reasons, they recognize the importance of providing educational support for professional trades, no matter the industry.
In Presque Isle County, you can visit the Presque Isle Historical Museum and the Presque Isle Lighthouses. Funds at CFNEM support both of these. At Seagull Point Park in Rogers City, check out the walking paths and signage on the trails. Not only did a Northeast Michigan Youth Advisory Council (NEMYAC) grant help fund these signs, but our very own YAC members helped put them up as a service activity. CFNEM Community Impact and YAC grants touch nearly every corner of Presque Isle County, from the lakeside concerts to the local theater, and the library’s programs to the life-saving rings at the Rogers City Marina.
Head south on US-23 toward Alpena and spend some time exploring so many places that have been supported by Foundation grants and by Foundation funds:
- Visit Besser Museum with its cool exhibits, planetarium and historic village.
- Explore Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary Maritime Museum and maybe even take a ride on the glass-bottom boat to view shipwrecks.
- Take a ride or walk on the Alpena Bi-Path that goes throughout the city.
- Visit the Rotary Splash Park at Starlite Beach.
- Take in one of the many free programs of the Alpena County Library, whether for kids or adults.
- Visit the Alpena Farmer’s Market if it’s a Wednesday or Saturday morning.
- Visit the Alpena Duck Park and cross the bridge to explore Island Park. (Funds are currently being raised through the River Center Fund at CFNEM to make the River Center at Duck Park a reality.)
Head south on US-23 further, and if you’ve got kiddos in the car, stop by Shin-ga-ba Shores playground in Ossineke. The Community Foundation, and as you’ll see, MANY community members, supported the construction of this cool playground. For a truly unique experience, head across the road to Dinosaur Gardens to see life-size dinosaur statues, a miner’s sluice, and much more. Then, stop by Connie’s Café for one of their famous giant cinnamon rolls. This place closes at 2 p.m. most days, so plan accordingly. There’s nothing Foundation-related about either of those, but they’re totally cool!
Then, check out Negwegon State Park. This hidden gem has been exactly that…hidden for a long time, known mostly only to locals. This park is a nearly-untouched parcel of pure natural beauty. After driving for a few miles on a sand two-track, you’ll find Negwegon off of Black River Road and Sand Lake Trail. Wildlife, wildflowers, sandy beaches and hiking trails abound here, and the popular “dark sky nights” are held here often. If you come to love this place as much as so many others, consider a donation to the Friends of Negwegon State Park Endowment Fund at CFNEM.
Further south on US-23 grab an ice cream at your choice of three different ice cream shops in Harrisville, and head into Harrisville State Park and take a swim or walk along the beach. Notice the beach walkway? That was Community Foundation grant-funded. In Harrisville, you can also visit Sturgeon Point Lighthouse and the Old Bailey School House – both of which have been supported through grants to the Alcona Historical Society.
If it’s a Saturday morning, stop by the Alcona Farmers Market in Lincoln (head west on M-72 from Harrisville). This market has been funded through CFNEM Community Impact grants. Everything from the mushrooms, vegetables, baked goods and farm-raised meat are part of Alcona’s “farm to fork” movement. While there, grab a brochure for the Alcona Quilt Trail, another grant-funded project. You can follow this trail all over the county to see the unique barn quilts, and if you plan it right, you’ll end up on Alcona County’s northernmost portion of M-65, headed toward Montmorency County.
In Hillman, tune into Hillman Community Radio on 103.5 WXHR. A CFNEM grant helped get this station running, and now has unique music and covers all local events. As you drive by Hillman Community Schools, check out their school orchard. This grant-funded project is teaching local students how to grow, preserve and cook food. It’s also providing healthy food for school breakfasts, lunches and fundraisers. You can also stop by another playground that was funded with help from a CFNEM grant – the Tiger Paw Park.
Head west on M-32 to Atlanta, and check out the huge glass-encased elk that welcomes visitors to “Elk Country”. Also a grant funded project, this exhibit should remind you to watch the road for crossing elk. Seriously.
Still want to keep going?...
North Central Michigan Community Foundation
Crawford, Ogemaw and Oscoda Counties
Head south down M-33, and your trip through the North Central Michigan Community Foundation service area begins in Mio in Oscoda County. In Mio, check out the Steiner Museum. This place holds some interesting artifacts and items showcasing Oscoda County’s rich history. There are limited hours, so plan accordingly. The museum holds an endowment fund at NCMCF to support its needs in perpetuity.
You can then head over to Our Lady of the Woods Shrine in Mio. St. Mary’s Church established a scholarship in the name of the shrine, which has awarded over $22,000 to Oscoda County students. This shrine, which was completed in 1954, is visited by thousands of people each year from all faiths, and is open to the public.
Next, head west on M-72 to Crawford County. In Grayling, you can visit the Crawford County Historical Museum, which holds an endowed fund at NCMCF and has also received several grants. For outdoor lovers, this county is full of fun ideas in a natural setting. One of those is Lake Margrethe. Public access points allow you to jet ski, paddle board, boat or kayak on this picturesque lake, or camp at the nearby Lake Margrethe State Campground. Keep your eyes and ears on alert for loons. If you find them, know that part of the reason they’re there is because of the loon preservation grants from the Lake Margrethe Foundation Fund at NCMCF. This fund has also helped to treat Eurasian milfoil and zebra mussels – both invasive species that were controlled through the fund. People who care about Lake Margrethe have worked hard and successfully to protect this body of water, and the fund ensures its protection forever.
You can also choose a canoe trip or fishing on the Upper Manistee River or Upper AuSable River. If you catch a brook trout, you can know that it’s existence there is partly because of the Cedars for AuSable Fund at NCMCF, which has staked and planted thousands of cedar trees along the river bank to prevent erosion, and to provide a natural habitat for fish in the river.
Finally, head south on I-75 to Ogemaw County. If you take a detour to Rose City, stop for a picnic lunch in and enjoy the park. If you have kids, they’ll enjoy playing in the park and playground, parts of which were funded through NCMCF grants. (Take note as you pass by Ogemaw Heights High School on this detour…hundreds of students have received scholarships and benefited from school grants through the Educational Support Partnership funds at NCMCF.) Once in West Branch, check out the rain garden walk. These gardens, with the help of NCMCF and other grants, are nearing completion.
You can then visit the Ogemaw County Historical Museum, full of artifacts, much of which is from West Branch’s Victorian history. If you’re in West Branch on the right evening, take in a concert in the park from the West Branch Summer Music Series. These concerts have been funded for several years, in part, through NCMCF Community Impact grants to the City of West Branch. You can also take a canoe, kayak or tube, or cast a fishing line on the Rifle River. NCMCF is home to the Rifle River Watershed Fund, which supports the health of this River. Looking for a great place to eat in West Branch? Check out the China Inn…NCMCF Board members have chosen this restaurant as their pre-meeting meal for years!
And for more road-tripping…
Iosco County Community Foundation
Have you explored Iosco County lately? M-55 will bring you to Iosco County from the west, and US-23 brings you there from the north. The entire county is served by the Iosco County Community Foundation (ICCF), whose board members, grants and funds touch each corner of the county.
Start your day with a bike ride or walk along the Alabaster Bike Trail. ICCF Community Improvement grants have supported directional and fitness signage along these trails. The Iosco Exploration Trail established a fund at ICCF to support a “rail to trail” initiative, with a goal of using the Michigan Iron Belle Trail to connect Hale to Oscoda and AuSable Townships, thus connecting all of Iosco County through a non-motorized trail system.
Next, check out the Iosco County Historical Museum in Tawas. A permanent endowment fund is being built to support the museum’s exhibits, artifact acquisition and preservation and programming. If you’re lucky, maybe you can take in a presentation by Paleo Joe! He’s a frequent presenter at the museum, and kids and adults alike love him. ICCF grants have helped fund those presentations, too. You can also plan your trip to be able to take in a concert from the Tawas Area Community Concert Band, which holds a fund at ICCF to support Iosco County children attending music camps.
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path place to stay, check out Pegasus Springs Ranch in National City. This ranch is an active therapeutic riding center with a bed and breakfast suite in a beautiful setting. (Your stay supports the ranch.) It’s connection to ICCF? In 2019, ICCF awarded a $4,000 Community Improvement grant to the Pegasus Springs Therapeutic Riding Center, which serves those with mental and emotional disabilities, addiction, or other challenges using horses and horseback riding.
Next, head north to Oscoda and check out Van Etten Lake. Local property owners and those who love this lake have established the Van Etten Lake Endowment Fund to preserve its health. The lake is beautiful, but has received state and nationwide attention recently due to the PFAS/PFOS crisis. Situated directly across from the former Wurtsmith Airforce Base, Van Etten Lake is a confirmed site for PFAS. So why stop there? The lake is beautiful, and its future is being preserved and protected because of those who care about it. Additionally, Huron Pines has received funding through ICCF to help protect the lake and the Pine River watershed that feeds into it.
If you’re in Oscoda at the right time, you might be able to catch a production by the Shoreline Players Youth Theatre group. The Diana Smith Memorial Youth Theatre Fund was established to support the youth theatre programming at Shoreline Players’ Theatre.
You can also head west on River Road from Oscoda and check out Lumberman’s Monument. After all, the ICCF logo contains an image of this iconic Iosco County landmark, which is a tribute to the county’s lumbering history. Lumberman’s Monument has a visitor center, small museum, and a great view overlooking the AuSable River. On the grounds is also Reame’s Cabin, which was moved to the site with the help of an ICCF grant. Further west on River Road is Iargo Springs. You’ll get your exercise climbing down and up the 400 steps to the AuSable River, and you’ll be rewarded with views of natural springs, wildlife and platform views of the river’s floodwaters.
Head north up M-65 and you’ll go through Hale and Whittemore. These are two small towns on the southwestern end of the county. Those who care about these communities have established education funds to support the schooling and futures of the kids who live here. The communities are also surrounded by inland lakes, all of which can be supported through the Iosco County Lakes and Rivers Fund at ICCF.