Editor’s Note: This is a reprint of a Sept. 2007 Record-Eagle editorial on the creation of Michigan’s first state park. You’ll notice that it says “third” in this editorial. Years later we also ran a story about it being the state’s “second” state park. Turns out, Interlochen State Park was the state’s first park to be transferred to the Legislature’s formation of the Michigan State Park Commission in May 12, 1919 — thereby making it official. But first place, second place, third place ... on this centennial weekend, the number means less than the hallowed place the park and park system occupies in our community. Check out today’s DNR special section and celebrate the state park system’s birthday May 18 in Interlochen State Park from noon to 4 p.m.
In 1917, World War I was raging and U.S. troops entered battle for the first time, women gained the vote in New York State, Father Flanagan founded Boys Town and the Russian Revolution began.
That was also the year the Michigan Legislature — with vision and a commitment to the greater good rarely seen since — purchased one of the last remaining stands of virgin pine trees in Michigan to create Interlochen State Park with a simple aim: Preserve the past for future generations.
It was the third park created in Michigan behind Mackinac Island, established as a state park in 1895 (it was the nation’s second national park in 1875) and Michilimackinac State Park, founded in 1909. Both of those parks are now operated by Mackinac State Historic Parks, an agency within the Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries. Interlochen and the state’s 96 other state parks are operated by the state Department of Natural Resources.
Interlochen was, for its time, unique. It wasn’t an historic site, it wasn’t on the Great Lakes, there were no geysers or mineral spas. It was simply a beautiful place in the distant woods where one of the last links to the state’s forest past existed. Lawmakers had the good sense to grab it and hold on to it. The state spent $60,000 for the 200 acres fronting Duck Lake and initially dubbed the park “The Pines.”
A 1918 forester’s report said the park boasted “Old growth white and Norway pine that has never been cut, towering 175 feet or more in height.” Several of those trees, including one 150 feet tall, still stand along the park’s Pines Nature Trail.
The foresight it took for state lawmakers to claim Interlochen and then create dozens more parks in the decades to follow was, for its time, truly laudable. Yellowstone had been created as America’s first national park in 1872, followed by Mackinac Island three years later. The idea of setting aside tracts of land far from urban centers as places to rest and take in the outdoors — simply for the enjoyment of it all — was ahead of its time.
It was probably no coincidence that Henry Ford had rolled out his first car in 1896 and by 1917 was churning out Model Ts by the thousands. The tough little cars were allowing average people access to places they couldn’t have easily gotten before, and they were making the most of it.
Today, Interlochen embodies the classic camping experience in Michigan.
There’s a lake, camp sites rustic to fancy, hot showers, electric hookups, indoor toilets and, of course, fire pits.
State parks were an inspired idea in 1917; now they’re part of the fabric of the state.