Just north of the city proper is a terrestrial landscape that wakens the explorer’s spirit. Indeed, the traveler, regardless of his interests and no matter his origin, will find an amazing adventure filled with beauty. Majestic and mysterious, Rockport State Recreation Area holds all the spirit longs for. Flowing waters, majestic skies, abundant creatures of the wild, and echoes from the culture filled with a vibrant heritage and indomitable will.
This former limestone mining quarry turned State Recreation Area packs more adventure per square acre than any other place on the planet. Here’s a sample of what is in store for you at this 4,237-acre retreat.
Fossil Hunting 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 to the edge and see the karst topography. 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 form 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.
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 the 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. This is also a great place to launch your kayak for a paddle out over two nearby shipwrecks.
Besser Natural Area & Bell Village
Just north of the Rockport property is a stunning beach, nature trail, and remnants of a 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 a 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, rendering Rockport State Recreation Area an official Dark Sky Park. Stars, meteors, planets and moons await your discovery!
Access to the big lake is easy with the boat launch at the Rockport harbor. There is plenty of parking for tucks 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.
Find Out More:
Rockport State Park www.michigandnr.com
Friends of Rockport www.friendsofrockport.com
Dark Lands www.visitalpena.com
Presque Isle Township www.presqueisletwp.org/content/history/bell.asp