Now part of a wonderful 100-mile long kayak water trail along the top of Michigan's Thumb, the Harbor is a symbol of man's ability to tame nature, if only temporarily.

Michigan's Tip Of Thumb Water Trail Features Man Made And Natural Delights

The 103-mile water trail starts in the Saginaw Bay near Bay City and extends across the top of Michigan's Thumb region down to Lexington, just north of Port Huron.

Along the top edge, lies many beautiful harbors and the natural phenomenon of Turnip Rock, a huge limestone outcropping located near Port Austin, that is worth the four mile paddle out to it.

turnip rock

But it's in the small town of Harbor Beach that Michigan and world history was made.

The World's Largest Man Made Freshwater Harbor Was At The Zenith Of Great Lakes Shipping

The Harbor was built to be able to provide safety for Great Lakes schooners along Michigan's Thumb, which had no natural harbors like many other Great Lakes ports along the Detroit to Chicago, or Detroit to Duluth shipping lanes.

According to

In 1871 shipping in the Great Lakes was nearing its height. Over 30,000 trips were made past the eastern Thumb shore. However, there were no harbors in which ships could take refuge during the fall storms that were common across the region. ...Ships steered a course 2 to 3 miles offshore, where they risked being fully exposed to the weather.

In 1871 it was one of the busiest stretches for shipping in the entire upper lakes.

Congress allocated $1,000,000 of a harbor of refuge and a survey was commissioned in May of 1872 to test the lake bottoms holding power.

Emmalee Couturier via Unsplash
Emmalee Couturier via Unsplash

The area around Sand Beach in 1872 was (decided upon as the site). It was very remote and had had no merchants and no manufacturing except a few shingle makers. In 1873 the area became the site of one of the most ambitious harbor projects on the Great Lakes.

When it was completed, the town sprung up with a railroad station and post office supporting the harbor.

In 1883 when the harbor was completed, Harbor Beach became the largest freshwater port in the world.

This one mile by three miles long port with 650 acres of anchorage was enclosed by three break walls with two entrances. The city later became home to major industries, including a starch and power plant.

Fall Kayaking Traverse City
Fall Kayaking Traverse City

The Northern Thumb Is Emerging As A Prime Kayaking Spot

Now part of the water trail, the tip of the Thumb region is fast becoming a necessary stop for water sports enthusiasts. Kayakers and canoeists alike are finding the beauty of the Northern Thumb as more than just a driving destination.

Included along the water trail are several ship wrecks in addition to natural phenomenon similar to Turnip Rock.

Kayaking in Michigan 2020

Kayaking in Michigan

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