Palms Book State Park is a public recreation area located on the shores of Lake Michigan, five miles southwest of Mackinaw City in Emmet County in Northern Michigan. The state park’s 955 acres (382ha) include pine forested hills and dunes, wetlands, prairie, open fields, mature hardwood forests, and several archaeological sites. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places as Palms-Norton Site in 2009.
Today, some white spruces are growing alongside eastern hemlocks and black oaks. On top of these changes, severe winters kill many young saplings, but the larger trees survive because their deep root systems hold them in place against windthrow. As a result, Palms has become an important study site for scientists trying to understand how ecosystems will change as global temperatures rise.
The park offers excellent birding opportunities, especially during migration season. There is a 200-foot boardwalk trail through the marsh leading to a raised observation platform overlooking the Pine Lake Creek estuary. Other trails lead to archaeological sites, the historic Beeben Island House, and a wetland nature center. The park features swimming, picnicking facilities, boat launch, playground, cabins, campsite, lodge, and 96-site tent/RV campground. The park includes four trails for equestrians, hikers, and bikers that range from easy to moderate in difficulty. Two horse pens are available along with a small pasture for horses brought on foot. No riding stables are available. The main entrance to the park is off U.S. Route 23 on Woodstock Road. To the west of US23 there are additional entrances off County Roads J & K.
These entrances provide access to the Old Abe Recreation Area and allow visitors coming from the south via US23 to enter the park without having to go through the main gate between US23 and SR127. Access from the north is provided by SR127. Entrances to the park are monitored 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 365 days per year. Campsites are not assigned, so they are open to everyone. Visitors needing special accommodations may apply for a permit allowing them unlimited access to the park. Permits are issued by the park staff and are valid for three months. Pets are prohibited in the park. No fires are permitted in the campgrounds or on the hiking trails. Overnight use of the park requires a cabin reservation.
Cabin reservations must be made at least ten days prior to arrival. Walk-in campers and RVs are not accepted. The park provides 96 walk-in sites, each with water and electrical hookups, for recreational vehicles. Eighteen primitive hike-to cabins are scattered throughout the park. Each cabin sleeps six people and has electric heat, two bedrooms, living room, dining room, bathroom, and kitchen. Outside of the cabins are a fire ring and picnic table. Tent and RV sites are accessible by a short 0.8 mile trail. There are 12 designated horse riding routes within the park, ranging from easy to moderate in difficulty. Horses allowed on-premises are usually kept in the northeast corral. All other horses are required to have current Negative Coggins papers.
The park allows mountain biking, snowmobiles, and cross-country skis in certain conditions. Both bike lanes and groomed ski runs exist. Snowmobiling is not allowed on the non-skid roadways. Boat launches are provided on both lakes. Hunting is limited to bowhunting. Archery-only deer hunting is offered from mid-September through December. Non-deer hunting options include shotguns, muzzleloaders, and crossbows. The park contains approximately 26 miles (42km) of paved multi-purpose roadway, 17 miles of gravel road, and 35 miles of hiking trails. Biking is restricted to the non-skid portions of the roadway. No ATV or dirt bike trails are maintained. Bicycle rangers check for proper licensing and registration of bicycles when they are brought onto the property.
The park has nine miles of equestrian trails, ranging from very easy to moderately difficult. Riders are warned to bring their own ponies, as renting one is expensive and availability is limited. Only 16 spaces are available for overnight horse rentals. Overnight mule rentals are also available. The park has a large grassy field adjacent to the highway bridge across Pine Lake Creek. This is commonly used for group events like music festivals, corporate occasions, weddings, etc. The park hosts regular organized group sports events, including disc golf, Frisbee, soccer, softball, volleyball, basketball, and horseshoes.
The park also has a 25 meter pool for private swim events. The park has a new playground opening summer 2016. It is a woodchip pad with slides, swings, and a seesaw. The previous play structure, known as Treehouse Tower, was destroyed by high winds in 2015. Prior to the construction of the new playground, children using the existing equipment needed adult assistance to climb up the structures. Due to structural concerns, the former equipment could not be rebuilt.
In 1871, William Pryor Norton purchased 120,000 acres of land near Fort Holmes, including most of what became Palms Book State Park. He established his home on one parcel which he called “Beebe Island,” where he built an eight-room house that included a greenhouse. His son Willard G. Norton inherited Beebe Island and continued building onto it. When he died childless in 1922, his wife Edith sold 330,000 acres, including Beebe Island, to the government for $1 million; this made her one of the richest women in America.
With help from his friend Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, who also happened to be from Massachusetts, Governor Ernest Lister arranged with Edith to set aside 300,000 acres in northern lower Michigan for creation of a state park. This came into effect in 1927 when she signed over title to 260,000 acres to the state for $2 million, half of which was paid at once and half following the state’s performance of its obligations under a long term lease. The deal was struck even though the state had no plans to develop any parks at all until 1931.
That year, W.P. Norton’s old college roommate Robert P. Whiteside began developing Palms, naming it after the only palm tree within sight. A campground opened two years later, followed by a picnic area with beach access in 1936. The Civilian Conservation Corps led an effort to improve the park during the Great Depression. They cleared areas for camping and parking, planted trees, constructed trails, and improved roads. Palms grew rapidly, reaching full maturity in about 40 years, compared to 400 years for oak trees. Because of this rapid growth, fire suppression efforts were able to keep the park much younger than other nearby natural areas such as Sand Point Preserve or North Higgins Lake State Park. However, beginning around 1960, whitespine mountain laurels were introduced and have since spread widely, out-competing native red pines for sunlight.
Birders can see:
- trumpeter swans
- red-winged blackbirds
- wild turkey
- bald eagles
- snowy owls
Fish species found in Pine Lake include:
- northern pike
- yellow perch