Put your finger on the exact center of a map of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and you’ll be pointing directly at Mount Pleasant. Best known throughout the Mitten State as the home of aptly named Central Michigan University, the city of 26,000 also draws thousands of visitors each year for the entertainment options at Soaring Eagle Casino.
As a former resident of the “Mountain Town,” I jumped at the chance to take a weekend #MittenTrip, visit a few of my old favorite spots, and explore what’s new around town. My parents still live there and I have a number of friends in town, so I was excited to catch up with a few people while looking at my former hometown through the eyes of a visitor. “MP,” as I often refer to it, did not disappoint. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised. Pun intended.
I hit the road from Traverse City on Friday evening and made it to MP in time to catch the sunset at Island Park, just outside of downtown. The 50-acre park is surrounded on all sides by the Chippewa River, and includes picnic pavilions, a skate park, and a “spray park” for keeping cool on hot summer days.
After a stroll around Island Park it was time for a beer at the Brass Café & Saloon, located on Main Street in the heart of downtown, just around the corner. “The Brass” offers 80 bottled beers and a half-dozen or so beers on draught. Michigan brews are well-represented on the beer list, which also includes beers from Belgium, Germany, and beyond.
After a beer at The Brass, we decided to check out the taproom at Mountain Town Brewing Company, located just outside downtown. As a regular attendee of beer festivals around the state, I’m familiar with Mountain Town’s core beers, but was happy to find a selection of specialty and seasonal brews on draught.
With CMU out of session for the summer, we had no trouble getting a seat at either establishment, but both were busy enough to liven the atmosphere. It was a good start to the weekend.
With a beautiful sunny day on tap for Saturday, two of the Mount Pleasant area’s six golf courses were on the agenda. But before putting on my golf spikes, I decided to spend the morning exploring part of Mt. Pleasant’s extensive park system.
I kicked off the morning with a stop at The Dreamer Coffee Shop, across the street from the Central Michigan University campus. The barista whipped me up a delicious pour-over with fresh-ground coffee in a to-go cup. I was tempted to stay to enjoy the unique space decorated with local art, but the outdoors called.
I parked my car at Mill Pond Park, grabbed my camera, and set off on foot to explore the 90-acre recreation area surrounded by Mt. Pleasant’s central neighborhoods. Throughout my walk along the paved trails and bridges over the Chippewa River, I encountered runners, hikers, bikers, and plenty of other people simply enjoying the summer day from a bench overlooking the river.
For lunch, I couldn’t resist stopping at Pixie, a Mt. Pleasant classic known for its coney dogs and “Bitty Burgers.” Eat a dozen of either for the opportunity to be added to the “Wall of Fame.” The 50s-themed restaurant is a local favorite that hosts “Cruisin’ at the Pix” Thursday nights during the summer, a chance to get an up-close look at classic cars while you enjoy your coneys and, of course, a tall chocolate shake.
An afternoon of golf started out at the Pohlcat, designed by its namesake, former PGA touring pro, Dan Pohl. The friendly staff was quick to offer tips for playing the 18-hole championship course, which is built around a beautiful setting along the Chippewa River.
My next stop was Buck’s Run Golf Club, located east of Mt. Pleasant just off M-20. Opened in 2000, Buck’s Run is a true championship golf experience. A couple of local friends mentioned that it reminded them of an “Up North” course, and after playing it, I can see why. The Jerry Matthews design utilizes the
terrain of a former gravel pit and surrounding wooded areas beautifully, incorporating the Chippewa River both as part of the setting and as an element of play.
Midori Sushi & Martini Lounge had come highly recommended from friends in town, so we headed back downtown to give one of Mt. Pleasant’s newest restaurants a try. The outdoor patio was perfect for a nice evening, and the service was prompt and pleasant. If you go, be sure to try the Firecracker Shrimp, prepared with a tasty sweet chili sauce. The Ninja Roll was my favorite from the sushi menu, and the Chicken Teriyaki Bowl was tasty, too.
Owner Rich Swindlehurst and Manager Leah Heatherington say their goal is to bring a “big city feel” to downtown Mount Pleasant. The indoor space, with its exposed brick, high-top tables, and sushi bar, certainly hints at that, while the friendly service reminds patrons of the benefits of the small town location.
The sun reappeared Sunday morning, so we headed out for more exploring at Chipp-A-Waters Park, a 30-acre greenspace and woodland that includes the Access Adventure Trail, the southern portion of the GKB Riverwalk Trail, a 1.8-mile trail that connects to
Mill Pond Park, Nelson Park, and Island Park. The Chippewa River is present throughout the trail’s length, and is a central focus of recreation within the city limits. Access to the surrounding woods and wetlands is a welcome addition.
I used to explore narrow footpaths along the river in these areas as a kid, and I was sincerely impressed by the improvements that have opened access to these natural areas. We again encountered bikers, hikers, tubers, kayakers, and families enjoying the easy access to natural resources along the paved paths and boardwalks. If you find yourself in Mount Pleasant, find some time to explore them. You’ll be glad you did.
With the sun rising in the sky, it was time to cool off with a paddle on the “Chip” with Chippewa River Outfitters. We parked our car at the Lincoln Road headquarters and were shuttled to Deerfield Park west of town to begin our float down the river. The float to the
takeout at Meridian Road took a little over two hours, and included quiet, undeveloped stretches mixed with a few sections of moderate current. Tubing is also popular on the Chip, and we saw several groups enjoying the cool water on the hot summer day. It was a perfect ending to a great weekend in the Mountain Town.
So how did Mount Pleasant get its name? Well, there is no “Mount Pleasant” towering over the horizon, although I’m sure you could still find an “I climbed Mt. Pleasant” t-shirt in one of the local shops. Even having lived in Mt. Pleasant, I was pleasantly surprised to return for a weekend to find that MP is not only surviving, but thriving. I’m already planning a return trip.
~Nick Nerbonne, Contributing Writer.