Bay City State Park is a public recreation area occupying 1,000 acres (400ha) on the shore of Lake Huron off U.S. Route 23 in Presque Isle County, Michigan. The state park contains two separate units that are located about one mile apart from each other. The larger unit includes an old-growth forest and several smaller parks including Rockwood Nature Park, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Bay City Natural Area in 1990. A small unit consisting primarily of former farmland has been designated as the Bay City Unit. The state acquired most of the land for the park between 1920 and 1930 through purchase or gift deeds. In addition to natural areas, the park hosts historical sites related to William Wirt Rice (1833-1910), a businessman who founded the town of Bay City, and the Chippewa River and Lake Huron region.
It also features a campground with 309 campsites, cabins, trails for hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, and snowmobiling, and a boat launch. The park’s trail system connects with those of neighboring Saginaw Trails State Park and Black Star Forest State Park. The Bay City Unit of Bay City State Park consists of four parcels, three of which were formerly owned by William Wirt Rice (18331910). One parcel, known as “Parcel #1,” measures 5.5 miles long and nearly 3 miles wide; it borders both sides of the mouth of the river where it meets Lake Huron. Parcels 2 and 3 together measure approximately 4.2 miles long and have a combined total of .9 miles of beachfront. Rice purchased these parcels in 1919, then sold them to the state five years later. They became part of the state park following creation of the new city of Bay City in 1923.
The park remained undeveloped until 1929 when work began on the DNR Highway Bridge project, which necessitated moving some utilities around the park. Development continued slowly, however, and only minimal changes were made to the landscape until 1933 when another major project, this time involving the entire highway system, was under way. Once again, little development took place at the park until after World War II. Demolition of structures continued into the early 1950s before any significant redevelopment occurred. However, the park saw use during the war effort, particularly for training programs such as radar school and anti-aircraft artillery training. Remnants of the military installations can still be seen today at the park.
By 1970, concern over erosion caused by heavy lake storms led to proposals to renew development at the park. An environmental impact study was completed and, in May, 1971, the park received its official reopening. Since that date, extensive efforts have been made to redevelop the park. Numerous improvements have taken place including construction of additional parking lots, roads, water and sewer systems, and residential housing. Although there have been setbacks – not least the 2008 financial crisis – the park continues to develop and expand.
On November 9, 2011, Bay City resident Bill Thomas donated his collection of antique logging equipment to Bay City State Park. This donation allowed the park to establish the first ever Mountain Equipment Day Event within the park. Moved by stories of local industrial heritage told by locals, Thomas gathered more than 100 pieces of logging equipment, many rare or unique, and shipped them to Presque Isle County where they were carefully restored and put on display. Today, the TEK Center Museum displays much of this same equipment along with historic photographs and artifacts. The museum is open seasonally and offers regular special events. Logging demonstrations and hands-on activities are featured throughout the year.
There is a large population of squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, opossums, and porcupines. There is a 150 site campground divided into tent and RV sites. Half of the sites are available on a first come, first served basis while the remainder must be reserved. Two yurts are available for rent. The main picnic area has charcoal grills, horseshoe courts, volleyball net, playground, and modern restrooms. Several outlying picnic areas are accessible via roadways. The park has eight miles of trails for walking, jogging, bicycling, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. These trails connect with the regional trail network, especially the paved portion of the Red Pine Trail which runs north to Rogers City and the US23 corridor.
Four miles of trail are maintained in the winter months for snowmobiles and skiers. Bikes are prohibited on all trails. The park has a 27 hole disc golf course. The park also maintains a very active volunteer group called the Friends of Bay City State Park. This organization works closely with staff to improve the park by keeping it clean, maintaining trails, providing educational information, etc. Many of these volunteers are retired high school teachers who teach summer classes at the park. Others are college students interested in gaining experience working with diverse populations and in contributing to conservation issues. Approximately 20% of the park’s visitors are now children whose parents brought them to learn about forestry, ecology, and history. Visitors spend an average of six hours per day at the park, often returning multiple times.
Over 300,000 people visit Bay City State Park annually. Bay City State Park is used as the home field advantage for teams playing in the NCAA College Football Championship game held every December at Ford Field. The University of Detroit Mercy Titans football team uses the park as a location for its spring games due to the friendly confines of the venue. The park is also utilized by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for outdoor education and environmental stewardship events. The park’s TEK Center Museum houses numerous exhibits featuring a variety of topics related to the park’s natural and cultural history.
The park has activities such as:
- cross-country skiing
- downhill skiing
- ice skating
The park provides excellent habitat for:
- black bear
Other wildlife observed include:
- sandhill cranes
- bald eagles
- owls like screech owls
- trumpeter swans
- Canada geese
- American white pelicans
- blue-winged teal
- double-crested cormorants
- northern spotted owls
- garter snakes
- red foxes
- eastern coyotes
- pileated woodpeckers
- barred owls
- song birds