McLain State Park is a public recreation area located on the shores of Lake Huron, six miles (9.7km) northeast of Rogers City in Presque Isle County, Michigan. The state park encompasses 1,100 acres (450ha), sits at an elevation of 636 feet (194m), and has about 2,400 visitors annually. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places as McLain State Recreation Area in 2017. In 1873, William B. Travis and P. H. Hurlbert purchased 500 acres (200ha) of land bordering Lake Huron for $1,000. They named it “Riverside Farm”, but soon found themselves short on funds so they sold half the property to James A. McLain for $500 who paid with his own money. He then hired a crew of workmen and started construction of what would become one of the most popular resorts of the 1890s. After his death, the property passed into the hands of several other private owners before being bought by the city of Rogers City in 1945. With help from a federal grant, the city set aside part of its purchase price each year to maintain the park.
When the remaining balance was due, the city offered to sell the entire parcel to the county for use as a park, which offer was accepted in 1960. However, since the county already had a nearby park, Rogers City proposed that the two parks be merged into a single entity called “Rogers City-Presque Isle State Park”. This idea was rejected by the Department of Natural Resources, which insisted that separate entrance fees be maintained. As a compromise, the counties agreed to split the cost of maintaining the park equally while giving up any claim to future revenue generated by the park. Thus, although still officially designated as “a joint venture between the cities of Rogers City and Presque Isle,” the park is now operated solely by the city of Rogers City.
In 1970, the name of the park was changed from McLain State Park to Bear Creek State Park; however, when the campground closed in 1972, it was renamed again to honor Billy Travis, a local boy made good whose passion was exploring new frontiers and whose untimely death was lamented throughout the community. On November 13, 2018, the park received further attention when a man fell asleep in his truck after drinking alcohol and drove off the beach causing extensive damage. Police arrested him shortly thereafter. According to witnesses, he appeared drunk even before getting behind the wheel. Although charges were never filed, the incident led to increased calls to keep people away from the beach during warm months.
Following this event, the city and county worked together to increase security around the park. Later that month, the DNR announced that they will not be renewing their lease with the county when it expired in 2022, choosing instead to operate their own small recreational area within the park. The new facility includes a boat launch, picnic areas, and hiking trails. Called River’s Edge Nature Center, it is accessible via Trail Centre Drive. There are more than 7 miles (11km) of paved multi-purpose trails open to runners, cyclists, and walkers. More than 200 campsites are available including yurts, cabins, group sites, and tent camping.
The park features three beaches, all of which have bathhouses, parking lots, and access roads. Beach #3 has a large sand dune adjacent to the lake. Accessible by Trail Centre drive, the River’s Edge Nature Center contains exhibits featuring wildlife, plants, and marine life found in the park. The center is staffed seasonally by naturalists offering programs on nature, art, history, and culture. Programs include hayrides, guided nature walks and hikes, story time, holiday events, and bird banding.
Other attractions include the historic Pickford House dating back to 1850, built by lumberjack Charles M. Pickford, and the ruins of Silver Sands Mill, once owned by steamboat captain Robert G. Byxbee. Both buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nearby are the communities of Rogers City, Harrisville, and Alcona. The park lies just east of U.S. Route 23, which runs along the shoreline. The park has three main entrances, two of which begin near US23. One begins at mile marker 78.5 of the highway, where there is a sign directing traffic to the left, onto a gravel road. This leads to the day use area and the ranger station/registration office.
The other entrance is at mile marker 80.0 of US23, where there is another sign directing left, this time onto a paved road. From here, it is 0.8 miles (1.3km) to the River’s Edge Nature Center. The third entrance is at mile marker 81.4 of US23, where there is a third sign directing left, this time onto a dirt road. From here, it is 1.2 miles (1.6km) to the River’s Edge Nature Center. All three entrances lead to the same place, the scenic overlook area known as Sand Point. Beyond this point, the lakeshore drops off sharply to the north, beyond which lie the remains of a rail line and some former logging operations. To the west, across the mouth of Bear Creek, is Wabasha Island, home to the Bird Sanctuary of North America.
Also visible is Little Beaver Island, separated from Wabasha by Drummond Island. These islands, along with Wabasha itself, are all remnants of a prehistoric era, when glaciers filled the northern reaches of the American Midwest with hundreds of thousands of tons of rock. Much later, these glacial erratics provided excellent sources of high-quality iron ore, which was mined commercially beginning in the mid-to-late 19th century. Two mining companies operated in the vicinity of McLain SP, digging for gold and silver coins, or coppers as they were called, in search of riches that never came. Ultimately both companies gave up and abandoned the site, leaving the forests undisturbed except for periodic fires.
Today, almost 100 years later, these stand of white pines provide a habitat for many different species of pine, hardwood forest, and coastal scrub. Among them are rare birds like the ovenbird, saw-whet owl, yellow warbler, prothonotary warbler, and veery. The upland fields support populations of deer, turkey, and ruffed grouse. Black bear, raccoon, waterfowl, and groundhogs live among the marshy lowlands. Coyotes, weasels, muskrats, cottontail rabbits, and chipmunks thrive in the forested regions. At least 50 different kinds of birds nest in the park, and nearly 300 stop during migration season.
The park offers activities such as:
- cross-country skiing
Visitors can also see animals native only to the region, such as :
- timber rattlesnakes
- bull snakes
- eastern fox squirrels
- pileated woodpeckers
- Carolina wrens
- red-tailed hawks
- wild turkeys
- bald eagles
- blue herons
Mammals observed at the park include:
- snowshoe hare