Long before we packed our bags and traveled over paved roads to reach our relaxing vacation destination, generations of Native Americans called Alpena home. Alpena’s last Native American tribal chief, Sah-gon-ah-ka-to loosely translates to “Thunder Cloud”. Leaving this world in 1869 at the age of 93, Sah-gon-ah-ka-to’s former homeland is now the City of Alpena’s most intriguing nature park, named Island Park.
A true hidden treasure, Island Park is surrounded by a 500-acre wildlife sanctuary in the middle of the city. Each time you cross over the walking bridge and step foot on the island, you feel as though you are miles away from your concerns; finding refuge deep in nature’s wonderland.
Island Park, sometimes referred to as Sportsman’s Island, is accessible from Alpena’s roadside Duck Park. Located at the corner of Long Rapids Road and US 23, there is a paved parking lot that serves both parks. The 2.5 acre Duck Park borders the Thunder Bay River and offers a public launch for kayaks and canoes, which you can also rent at the park from Adventureland Sports. Paddle the Blue Heron Water Trail through the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary. A handful of picnic tables and barbecues are scattered throughout the rolling picturesque landscape for lunch. A stately handcrafted wooden water tower and covered bridge, built by a local carpenter, marks the entry to the bridge connecting to the island. Parts of the island are handicap accessible, including the bridge and fully accessible viewing platform for all visitors.
The island will delightfully surprise you with its 17 acres of varied and distinct ecosystems and extensive trail system. Meadows, an oak grove, pine forest and cedar marsh areas radiate with beauty and wildlife. Climb elevated pathways up through the woodlands, or travel the gentle sloping trails along the 4,400 feet of Thunder Bay River shoreline. Throughout the island there are many fishing platforms and lookout areas that are handicap accessible. The cityscapes and buzzing sounds of cars area limited in the wildlife sanctuary, and makes this a favorite escape for hikers, joggers, photographers, birdwatchers, fishermen, book readers, and pure nature lovers.
A plethora of birds and animals can be seen on any given day when you trek the island. Be on the lookout for turtles sunning themselves on a river log. Listen close for the sounds of swans, geese, ducks, and the gently wings of flight of a Great Blue Heron. Squirrels, deer, mink and otter dart from place to place. Often, you will find the leftover picnic lunch of a beaver as they enjoy chewing through trees on the island for their dams in the river floodplain.
Hunting for snails and frogs is a favorite past time as the island is a perfect year round destination for a family adventure, a moment of personal solitude and reflection, or an inspiring escape to energize your creativity. Summer sun kisses the warm earth of the island’s trails. On a misty spring morning you can see water vapor rise from the river and surround the island in a nostalgic memory. When autumn brings her jeweled paintbrush the island is ablaze with the brilliance of a fire echoing Van Gogh himself. Winter offers a quiet retreat for snowshoeing and provides the serene backdrop to regain the balance of mind and body.
Heed the call of your explorer’s spirit and enjoy an adventure on Island Park.