History

Starting with Alpena’s origins as a logging settlement established where the Thunder Bay River meets Lake Huron’s Thunder Bay, the water has always played a vital role in defining the city’s culture and economic vitality. As the largest city in Northeastern Michigan, Alpena has long been a hub for the social and economic development and activity of the surrounding area. It has been decades since rafts of logs, commercial fishing boats and passenger ferries lined the banks of the river, but the memories of those days are part of what attracts people to the area and lives on in the memories of her longtime residents.

In modern times the waterfront contributes much to the local economy through pleasure boating and recreational and sport fishing for trout, salmon, perch and walleye. Some of the last commercial netting of whitefish is also based here. Bulk cement is shipped by boat from LaFarge to various ports on the Great Lakes. Coal, salt and sand are shipped by boat back to Alpena, offering employment for many residents and an opportunity to see the freighters as they unload. Glass bottom boat tours of the many shipwrecks in Thunder Bay run several times daily during season from the dock at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center (NOAA) and travel under the only operating drawbridge within 100 miles.

The many outdoor recreational opportunities afforded by Alpena’s many sandy beaches, pristine waterfront parks, and miles of bike and foot paths are all what gives us our 'sense of place.'

This, along with the many outdoor recreational opportunities afforded by Alpena’s many sandy beaches, pristine waterfront parks, and miles of bike and foot paths are all what gives us our “sense of place.” Rental development above commercial spaces in the downtown, two live theaters, two art galleries, outdoor dining on the river, wine making and a brewery offer unique experiences to the locals and tourist alike. The Besser Museum has many cultural exhibits on display and an old village complete with a fishing boat in case we forget what it was like here long ago.

- Don Gilmet is a board member of Michigan Port Collaborative, Treasurer at Northern Michigan Code Officials Association and Building Official at the City of Alpena.