Meridian-Baseline 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 has an unusual history; it was once used as a prison farm to produce food for prisoners and their keepers. In 1945, the site became the property of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which operates it as a state park with recreational facilities. It also includes two historic buildings from its days as a prison farm, the Farmhouse and the Workshop/Instrument House.
The Farmhouse contains exhibits about the agricultural activities that took place at the site between 1946 and 1964, when it was owned by the Prison Industries Division of the Michigan Department of Corrections. Built in 1954, the Workshop/Instrument house displays various items made by inmates of the prison during those years, including pottery, jewelry, sleds, and even a “prison mobile” designed and built by an inmate named Armar Bordner. Visitors can see how far back into the past the prison farm goes, all the way back to 1875, with a display showing what life was like in this part of northern Michigan in the 1850s. There are three main trails through the forested areas of the park, each one passing through historical or archaeological sites related to the prison farm. The Meridian trail runs along the shoreline, passing by the rock pile where the baseline surveyors met the lake, and leads you to the remains of a 19th century sawmill.
The Baseline trail passes by the old gravel quarry, leading out onto the Old Baldy Point Lighthouse hillside. Finally, the Birch Run trail runs northwesterly across the eastern end of the park, connecting with other public lands including the city-owned parcel known as Parcel 7. This last route is considered non-motorized because it lacks signs and markers, and there are no plans to install any bike lanes. The park’s campground features 188 campsites divided into tenting sites, camper cabins, yurts, and lodges. A separate group camp accommodates up to 100 people. Two rent-a-camp and four rent-a-RV sites are available. Picnic tables and pavilions may be reserved for a fee. An extensive network of hiking trails covers most parts of the park. Some lead out of the park proper, while others run within specific parcels of land. The longest trail is the Meridian Trail, which runs 16 miles (26km). Other trails include the 3-mile (4.8km) South Rim Trail, which connects to the Big Bay de Noc Trail; the 1-mile (1.6km) North Rim Trail; the .5-mile (.80km) Riverfront Trail; the 2-mile (3.2km) Fanny Hooe Recreation Area; and the .25-mile (.40km) Yellow Creek Discovery Trail.
The park has five small ponds for fishing, including one that holds bass year round. Swimming is not permitted in the lakes due to high levels of algae. Boat launches are provided at both ends of the park. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails are maintained during the winter months. Hunting is allowed in season in some portions of the park, though special regulations apply. The park provides several different opportunities for organized group events, such as bingo, holiday events, weddings and company picnics. The park also serves as the home field for many local sports teams, especially soccer clubs. The annual Arbor Day celebration is held around the third weekend in March every year. Activities include tree planting, crafts, games, music, and more. Every September, the park hosts Firefall Festival, featuring traditional foods and beverages, as well as live bluegrass and folk music.
On Presidents’ Day Weekend, February 22 & 23, 2010, over 300 volunteers participated in the restoration project, reopening the park to visitors after being closed since June 15, 2009, for major structural repairs and updating amenities. The park is staffed by full time natural resources employees and seasonal workers who are trained in first aid and CPR. Annual training is conducted throughout the year to ensure staff proficiency in these areas. Additionally, the park maintains a roster of retired emergency personnel who volunteer their time to help respond to emergencies if needed. The park’s location atop a large dolomite rock ledge above Lake Huron makes it ideal for kite flying. Kite flyers should be aware that winds vary greatly depending upon the time of day, weather conditions, and altitude.
Winds from the west are generally calm, but sudden gusts coming off the water can blow much stronger than expected. East winds are usually from the southeast, and therefore less likely to change direction, however, they can become south or southwest during late summer. Flying a kite east of the baselines requires using a current map and compass, as pilots cannot rely on landmarks. Because of the unpredictable wind directions, it is unwise to fly a kite anywhere near trees, power lines, or the like. If a string breaks, it can fall into the water and cause injury. Only experienced kite fliers should attempt to fly a kite beyond the boundaries of the park. When launching a kite, it helps to have a clear view of open waters, so the kite string does not get tangled in the boats moored alongside the dock.
Another consideration is whether the mooring buoys will hold the kite string sufficiently taut to prevent it from sagging, allowing the kite to drift away. Strong easterly winds common in early spring make a good match for kite flying, but lightweights are also suitable for this activity. As the name implies, baseline dating refers to measuring points established to satisfy legal requirements regarding the establishment of the border between U.S. and Canadian territories.
The United States Geological Survey began work on the initial surveying in the 1950s, and completed the job in 1956, producing a master plan for seven surveys. Each subsequent survey added additional detail to the earlier maps. Surveys S-63 and S-64 were performed in 1960, resulting in the completion of the “first line,” i.e., the measurement of the point where the border meets the water. Additional details were surveyed and marked in later years, and finally, S-69 was done in 1974, producing the official “second line.” Between them, these seven surveys cover 98 percent of the international border. Although the USGS originally intended to mark only the borders officially recognized by the United States, other countries had already begun marking their own territory, and Canada requested that the USGS datelines be extended west into the interior of British Columbia.
Thus, beginning in 1958, Survey S-67 was assigned to extend the southern boundary line of S-66 ten miles (16km) west into the headwaters of Smugglers Cove, now the site of Fairview Campground. That survey was finished in 1967, and in 1969, S-68 was assigned to complete the extension to the coast. After serving as a pilot station for air traffic control radar installations on the Great Lakes, WYESS Air Force Station was decommissioned in 1979, and the government sold 130 acres (53ha) to the state for use as a nature preserve and public recreation area, creating Meridian-Baseline State Park. The Farmhouse and Workshop/Instrument House are operated as museums by the DNR, with interpretive displays about the industrial and agricultural operations that took place at the site between 1946 and 1964, when it was owned by the Prison Industries Division of the MDOC.
The park offers:
- swimming beach
- boat launch
- cross-country skiing