National Marine Sanctuary

National Marine Sanctuary – Alpena, Michigan

If you are interested in the history of shipwrecks you will want to visit the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary where you will be able to see nearly 200 historic shipwrecks.  Because Lake Huron is a cold, freshwater lake it preserves many of these shipwrecks intact and in water depths ranging from a few inches to 2oo feet.  Because of the water depths it makes a perfect place for divers, snorklers and kayakers to come and see the shipwrecks.

You will then want to go to the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center to get the history and archaeology of the wrecks.  The Sanctuary’s 20,000 square foot river front headquarters is a great place to spend a day, or a part of a day.

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary focuses on understanding the region’s “maritime cultural landscape.” A cultural landscape is a geographic area including both cultural and natural resources, coastal environments, human communities, and related scenery that is associated with historic events, activities, or people. In other words, while the shipwrecks of the Thunder Bay region are the most obvious underwater cultural resource, the sanctuary will put the shipwrecks in the larger context of the region’s lighthouses, lifesaving stations, shipwreck salvage operations, and maritime economic activities.

The maritime history of the Thunder Bay region is characterized by the use of, and dependence upon, natural resources. These resources include animal furs, fisheries, forests, farmland, and limestone. The first recorded use of natural resources for transportation, food supplies, and recreation in Thunder Bay was by Native Americans during the Woodland period. European activity probably originated with the efforts of Native Americans and French traders to locate and trap beaver during the 1600s.

Trading and supply boats routinely passed Thunder Bay on their way to outposts at Mackinaw, Sault Ste. Marie, and Green Bay. In 1679, LaSalle’s GRIFFON became the first major European vessel to pass by Thunder Bay, and many others were to follow. The need to transport supplies to northern frontier posts stimulated construction of small brigs, sloops, and schooners. Thunder Bay accumulated a large collection of shipwrecks because of its strategic location along shipping lanes, and because the bay and nearby islands provided shelter for vessels during inclement weather.

Exhibits on Great Lakes maritime history and shipwrecks include the new “Exploring the Shipwreck Century” exhibit which is a huge 8,000 square ft. permanent exhibit which has a hands-on discovery center featuring life-sized recreations of an historic Great Lakes Schooner and shipwreck sites, artifact displays and interactive learning stations on technology and diving.

There is also a sanctuary store, state of the art education spaces, high-definition theater, and archaeological conservation lab.

The admission-free Center is a brilliant place to begin exploring Thunder Bay.

Location: 500 W. Fletcher
Alpena, Michigan 49707
Fax: 989-354-0144
For Group tours contact:
Sarah Waters
Education & Outreach Coordinator
Group Tours
Ex. 29

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