Arts, Culture & Heritage
A fascinating mixture of agricultural, maritime, industrial and high-tech influences contribute to Northeast Michigan’s cultural heritage. A history of logging and agriculture, fishermen and sailors, high-tech visionaries and ambitious entrepreneurs have shaped the landscape of our community.
The area’s cultural and historical character was also formed by a unique amalgamation of maritime, agricultural and industrial influences. The past melds with the future as the community boasts two live theaters, two art galleries, two museum heritage centers, and vibrant live music scene. Enjoy a day or a month exploring the Alpena area’s art, culture, and heritage.
Special collections: Genealogy, Best-Sellers, Large-Print, Audios, Videos, CD-Roms, Internet, Word Processors, 12 Newspapers/ 242 Magazines. Largest collection of 19th century Great Lakes ship photographs and records in the entire world! Authors in the Fall and Children’s Book Club.
The A.S.O. is North East Michigan’s only orchestra. It was founded in 2004 to give both players and listeners in the area a chance to appreciate, participate, and enjoy classical music. The priority of the Alpena Symphony Orchestra is to share the beauty of orchestral music with the residents of Alpena and the surrounding communities. The ASO season runs from May – December, and includes three full orchestral concerts and two small ensemble concerts. For concert dates or more information, see their web site.
Art in the Loft at Gallery 109 is a fine arts gallery featuring the work of local, regional and nationally recognized artists. Reasonably priced artwork is available in a wide range of media. Artists staff the gallery and apply their techniques in demonstrations and workshops. Visitors are welcome to observe and participate and a variety of special events are featured. Art In The Loft is open for two primary exhibit seasons, Summerview Season, which runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day and Winterview Season, which runs from mid-November until the end of January. A month-long Young Artists exhibit is held during the months of April and May. Call ahead or see web site for firm dates. Art in the Loft at Gallery 109 is located in the Center Building, 109 North Second Ave.
Northeast Michigan’s Center for Art, History, and Science.
ART: The Museum has an extensive collection of art that cannot be found any where else in Northeast Michigan, with works of art from Michigan artists such as Tom Moran to world renowned artists like Cezanne, Renoir, Dali, Picasso and Chihuly.
HISTORY: Dig for Devonian fossils in the Lafarge Fossil Park and keep all the fossils you find. Stroll through the Museum’s replica of an 1890’s Avenue of Shops. Explore the lumbering and farming history of Northeast Michigan. Visit the Peoples of Lakes and Forest Gallery, which houses a variety of Prehistoric and Native American artifacts unique to this region. Take time to explore the historic buildings on the Museum’s campus.
Science: See the Foucault Pendulum which gives visual proof the the Earth is rotating while demonstrating Newton’s Law of Motion. The only Planetarium in Northeast Michigan, the Besser Museum Sky Theater, is open every Saturday at 2 p.m. Visit and Shop the Museum Gift Store.
HOURS: Monday – Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. ADMISSION: Adults $5.00, Senior & Child $3.00.
Brush Creek Mill was constructed on a site where previous mills once stood. Built on the banks of the Thunder Bay River, it was named for Brush Creek, which meets the river, flowing from Atlanta to Alpena. The mill demonstrates the power of moving water with a 22’ stainless steel water wheel, capable of grinding corn and wheat. The mill features a museum, meeting room/classroom and gift store featuring handmade crafts made by local artists and crafters. A wide variety of classes are offered including jewelry making, acrylic painting, fly tying, computer classes and more. The mill is open Memorial Day through mid-October. Hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays 11 am – 3 pm and Sundays noon until 3 pm. Closed on Mondays. Tours are available for groups.
Michigan’s 100th State park is one of the most unique state parks in the midwest. The variety of terrain and unique geologic, historic, and natural elements found at the park create a unique collection of experiences to be had by visitors.
Few places remain that offer a true outdoor trail adventure. Flat, smooth trails are nice but where do you go when you want a good back-to-nature challenge? Rockport is perfect for long hikes or mountain bike trail rides. Rugged trails transverse the 4,000+ acres of the Rockport property. Some parts of the trails are smooth, some are rocky, and some are delightfully interrupted by wandering tree roots. Enjoy the wilds of the wilderness with a map and a compass and your sense of exploration. Trails fan out from the parking lot.
Deepwater Port & Pier
In the mining days freighters pulled into port to load their bellies with freshly mined stone. All that remains of this era today is the pier platform. A walk out onto the pier surrounds you with the breeze of the big lake and stunning views of her sparkling waters. You can spot the ancient dock pilings peeking out near the edges of the pier as turquoise water laps against the cement walls. The pier is located just off the parking area.
Besser Natural Area & Bell Village
On the north end of the Rockport property is a stunning beach, nature trail, and remnants of an historic village. Besser Natural Area is home to one of Michigan’s last remaining stands of virgin pine. Hike through an easy trail in the soft woods to view the timber and what remains of the old village of Bell, including the community’s primitive cemetery. When your forest adventure is complete, relax along one of Michigan’s most beautiful sandy beaches, near Bell Bay. Just off shore lies a shipwreck in mere feet of water and a ship’s mast rests in a lagoon along the shoreline.
Rural isolation has its benefits. Being miles away from any major metropolitan area gives northeast Michigan an unique advantage for those who enjoy the mysteries revealed in the night sky. Our lack of concentrated light pollution makes the cosmos appear crisp and clear. Dark lands can be found at Rockport State Park Recreation Area where light emissions are among the lowest in the Great Lakes. Stars, meteors, planets and moons await your discovery.
Access to the big lake is easy with the boat launch located at the Rockport harbor. There is plenty of parking for trucks with trailers. Fish for Brown Trout, Chinook, King, Salmon, Lake Trout and Walleye. Fishing off the pier is also a fun way to spend the day.
Fossils in the Quarry
Today, the terrain of the abandoned 300-acre limestone quarry is like something from another planet and hiking through the quarry is an interesting and intriguing experience. As you walk be careful not to trip over fossils. The landscape is dotted with fossilized remnants of the Devonian Period some 400 million years ago. Don’t forget a bucket! Each visitor is allowed to take home up to 25 lbs of fossils per person per year. The quarry is easily accessed via the trail from the parking lot. Trail is rugged; sturdy shoes recommended.
A dozen sinkholes dot the Rockport property and make for an exciting adventure into the forest in search of these unique geologic features. While most of the Rockport sinks are dry you can find one that is nearly 100 ft. deep and filled with water and fish! While it is not recommended that you climb into them for safety reasons, you can hike up to the edge and see the karst topography before your very eyes. Sinkholes are located throughout the forest and can be found by hiking out beyond the quarry. Trails are rugged but are also passable via mountain bike.
Two conveyor tunnels from the old mining operation have become home to, and a hibernation site for three species of bats; big and little brown bats, and the tri-colored bat. The third being less common in the state, especially in the lower peninsula. The number of bats hibernating at Rockport is significant and it is important to protect these populations. A group of high school welding students from Alpena constructed grates for the tunnels. The group is part of the only 4-H welding group in the state. The grates cover openings in the conveyor tunnels to keep people out but allow the bats easy access. Look for interpretive signage near the tunnels behind the large rock hill adjacent to the pier.
The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary preserves a national treasure, nearly 200 historic shipwrecks in and around the bay. Lake Huron’s cold, fresh water preserves many of these shipwrecks intact and in water depths ranging from a few inches to 200 feet, making the sanctuary a popular destination for divers, snorkelers and kayakers. You can explore the history and archaeology of these wrecks at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, the Sanctuary’s 20,000 square foot river front headquarters. Exhibits on Great Lakes maritime history and shipwrecks include the new “Exploring the Shipwreck Century” exhibit, a 9,000 square ft. permanent exhibit where visitors can experience elements of a traditional maritime museum combined with a hands-on discovery center featuring life-sized recreations of an historic Great Lakes schooner and shipwreck sites, artifact displays, and interactive learning stations on technology and diving. Also featuring a sanctuary store, state of the art education spaces, high-definition theater, and archaeological conservation lab, the admission-free Center is a great destination and the best place to begin exploring Thunder Bay. Please call for current hours of operation. Wreck locations are available on our web site. While visiting Alpena, you may also want to explore the Thunder Bay Sanctuary Research Collection, one of the largest archival collections of Great Lakes maritime history in existence, located at the Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library. Please call for hours.
The only year-round live theater in Northern Michigan. Located in a historic building in “Old Town” Alpena, the theatre provides a year-round schedule of programs, including mainstage productions, in-house and touring children’s shows and drama workshops. The theatre is committed to entertaining its audiences with high-quality productions, utilizing its resident professional company, augmented by community talent. Call the box office for up-to-date show information. Handicap accessible.