The silent sentries at Sand Point
Nautical history reveals itself along the Pictured Rocks Natural Lakeshore
"Then I came to the marge of Lake LeBarge and a derelict there lay."
- From the poem "Cremation of Sam McGee" by Robert W. Service
There are two derelict boats lying on the sandbar shores of Sand Point, four miles northeast of Munising in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. If people could see into the water they might glimpse the wreckage of one or two sunken boats as well.
Sand Point is an aptly named stretch of beach and one of the initial west-end attractions of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Its bars and sandy spits creep out from the mainland in the direction of Grand Island. It seems to designate the dividing point between a quieter Munising Bay and a more rambunctious Lake Superior, the giant that deposits sand on the point at will. It is where hikers and kayakers gear up before they start their wilderness jaunts. It is peaceful and wild and intriguing all in one. It is where rapture sneaks up and overpowers you.
The initial reason for the visit to Sand Point by my wife, Karen, and I was to walk the shoreline and see how far we could reach out onto the lake from one of its sandbars. We weren't disappointed as waves crashed at our feet and large derelict trees, defrocked of all but their skeletons and root systems, lay on the shoreline in wait for youngsters to scale them. A sailboat was out in the water, its white sails blending with the sandstone cliffs of Grand Island. Ten kayakers were outfitting their crafts on the shoreline, the first stage of their three-day venture on Grand Island. Beyond Munising Bay stood Grand Island's East Channel Lighthouse, an old wooden structure that has to be included in anyone's historic registry.
As we walked we connected with the trail that takes day and overnight hikers as far as they want to go into Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. If they get carried away, they could end up in Grand Marais, some 40 miles away. We opted for 10 minutes of hiking just to get a feel for the trail. We went until we found our heart rates dueling with a pretty steep hill. Half way up the hill we decided that we had had enough. On the way down we met day hikers heading to Miner's Castle 4.5 miles away. We'll do that next time.
Our surprise came when we stopped for information at Sand Point's old coast guard station. Modern day airport tower workers might learn form the "surfmen" who worked there. They only stayed for two-hour shifts and, not only couldn't sleep, but couldn't sit down. The station came to life in 1932 and remained a mainstay until 1960. The guard station was eventually donated to the park and is now its headquarters.
Just beyond park headquarters, those two derelict boats nurse their wounds in the sand dunes that overlook the bay. Before visitors get to them, they are steered to the 55-foot long and 37-foot wide U.S. Coast Guard boathouse. Inside is found an old rescue boat in mint condition. Outside is history happening right before one's eyes. Here is the old timber landing wharf with the channel that was once dredged. It includes rails that allowed the boat to get from the boathouse to the water.
Since the operation was moth balled in 1960, there was no reason to continue dredging. Mother Time and Mother Nature took over with relentless deposits of sand via wind and water. That same channel that once hoisted the Coast Guard boat from the water to the boat house is now a sand dune graveyard that has water rescues and historic adventures within its hold. Tracks that hoisted the boat in and out of the channel are still visible, some sitting atop the dune and some dipping into the water and disappearing. Those two derelict boats are enmeshed in the dune as well, one on each side of the devolving dock.
Not far from the old Coast Guard station is Sand Point Marsh Trail, accessible by wheelchair. It's a half mile of winding wooden walkway into the heart of a marsh and forest of uprooted trees. The suggested time for the walk is 45 minutes. That would be easy time to fill for those training their binoculars and cameras on the numerous beaver houses.
Nature lovers should never fail to appreciate the time invested in making our park systems enjoyable experiences. The half-mile wooden walkway through the marsh is a perfect example. It was built in 1989 by members of the Youth Conservation Corps supervised by a few National Park Service employees. They deserve a standing applause.
Jerry Harpt is a retired schoolteacher and coach who bides his time as a travel and outdoor writer. He's an avid silent sports enthusiast who cross-country skis, hikes, bikes and kayaks.