Michigan’s Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary

Day 236: Michigan’s Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary

Michigan’s Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary
Photo courtesy of Krissy Schwab

There are only 13 NOAA sponsored marine sanctuaries around the entire world.  Michigan’s Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary in Alpena is the only one located in the Great Lakes Region and houses the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center.  For many divers and maritime enthusiasts, it’s the must visit location in Michigan.  Even if one isn’t a diver or maritime history buff, the museum is a fun place to visit with captivating exhibits and artifacts.

The Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center boasts over 9,000 square feet of exhibition space and features displays discussing Great Lakes history and geography, shipwrecks in the Thunder Bay Sanctuary, and preservation of artifacts found at wreck sites.  Upon entering the museum to the left, visitors can view the preservation room where nautical archeologists study and preserve artifacts.  In one room, the museum simply displays artifacts found at wrecks.  From beer bottles to books and playing cards in pristine condition, people are often surprised what archeologists find.

Michigan’s Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary
Photo courtesy of Krissy Schwab

From Native American canoes to Great Lakes freighters, the Sanctuary shares stories from the vast realm of nautical history around the Great Lakes.  People can learn about how Natives constructed canoes and what materials they used while looking at the replica hanging from the ceiling.  The museum mainly focuses on the tragic modern era shipwrecks around Thunder Bay.  Nearly 100 ships sunk in 450 square mile area.  Freighters, schooners, and even Great Lakes cruise ships reside at the bottom of the Sanctuary. Artifacts corresponding with the exhibits are an eerie reminder of the wrecks below.

The Heritage Center also has a life size replica of an 1800s schooner called the Western Hopethat visitors can walk through.  Despite the small size of the ship, the interior architectural work mimics the style of houses of the era.  The wood work and paneling inside the small ship give it a homey feeling—although that probably wasn’t the case when traveling around the Great Lakes with the ebb flow of waves.  Visitors can also tour the top deck and have their picture taken at the helm.

Michigan’s Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary
Photo courtesy of Krissy Schwab

Aside from the exhibits, the Heritage Center focuses on Great Lakes conservation and wreck preservation.  The Great Lakes are known worldwide as some of the best diving waters in the world.  The cold water and lack of salt or corrosive bacteria allow wrecks from the 1600s on to remain at the lake bottom in pristine condition.  Most divers will tell people that half of the world’s wealth is underwater.  That also goes for knowledge.  Proper recovery of artifacts and preservation once out of the water are crucial to unlocking mysteries of our nautical history.  With wrecks being discovered all the time, who knows what other knowledge lies at the bottom of the Great Lakes.  Even if people aren’t divers, preservation of the water in the Great Lakes is everyone’s responsibility everyone can enjoy them.

The best part is that the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Museum and Thunder Bay Sanctuary are open year round and completely free to visit! ~Krissy Schwab, Feature Writer

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