City of Munising Profile
City of Munising (population 2,539)
Ringed by dramatic high, forested hills, Munising looks out across an attractive, often sparkling-blue bay. It has one of the most beautiful settings of any Michigan town, though many motorists might not notice it as they drive along the sprawling M-28 commercial strip. Motels and gas stations dominate the east entrance to town. Due north of town is huge irregularly-shaped Grand Island with its ancient light-house and steep bluffs. Tucked just out of sight along the shoreline to the east is one of Michigan’s most famous sights: the Pictured Rocks.
Going west from the sprawl, the highway passes the main downtown avenue, Elm Street, as it follows Lake Superior all the way to Marquette. Turn toward the water and you’ll find the attractive new marina and Bayshore Park near the docks to the Pictured Rocks Boat Cruises. The park's picnic tables and benches are a good place to take a break and enjoy the often sub-lime view of the harbor, Grand Island, and the often misty interplay of light, clouds, and water.
Munising has been steadily losing population; it was over 3,000 in 1980, 2,783 in 1990 and 2,539 in 2000. It is finally making some strides in refocusing itself with Bayfront Park, a point of civic pride. Like Ontonagon, L'Ance, Cheboygan, and Alpena, it has seen itself as an industrial town, with tourism an undependable extra. Historically towns like it have had a hard time making civic decisions based on scenery and appearances, and choice bay front land has been taken up by uses that don't relate to the water or the view. The century-old buildings at M-28/Munising Avenue and Elm, a block up from the harbor drive, have been refurbished with a sense of history. Unfortunately two off the four are presently empty.
Munising's superb harbor is protect-ed from Lake Superior's storms by 13,000-acre Grand Island. Long a private hunting retreat, Grand Island is now a national recreational area well suited to mountain biking and kayaking, The Grand Island ferry is off M-28 four' miles northwest of town. For a great view of the island, harbor, and the city, there’s a Grand Island scenic lookout on a mainland hilltop due south of the island west of Munising.
The scenic sandstone cliffs of Pictured Rocks and Grand Island contributed to the large number of ship wrecks here. Winds off the cliffs some-times caused ships to sink or run aground, often as they sought refuge in Munising's safe harbor. The waters off Munising are now the Alger Underwater Preserve, with eight major wrecks with in the 113 square miles. A worthwhile shipwreck cruise enables sightseers to visit three of them. Divers who enjoy exploring these wrecks take boats from “ Munising.
Groups of Ojibwa long made use of the sheltered Munising Bay as a favorite summer camping grounds. The WPA guide to Michigan recounts, "The splendor of [Pictured Rocks] cliffs and the thunder of waves in the caverns filled the Indians with awe; the Chippewa, who controlled most of the Upper Peninsula and camped here each summer believed that the gods of thunder and lightning lurked in the resounding caverns. They believed that Paupukkeewis lived among the crags in the form of an eagle; and that many of the cliffs housed evil spirits that had to be propitiated at stated intervals. Hiawatha, their hero, hunted in these woods, stalked game along these cliffs, and waded past the palisades, indenting them frequently with his fist in its magic mitten."
The area’s first important settlement was Grand Island, long used by Native Americans and later also as a fur-trading outpost, steamship fueling station, and destination for adventurous tourists. An iron blast furnace attracted permanent settlers to Munising in the1870s. Sawmills, a tannery, and the Munising Woodenware Company, whose wide array of household products are represented in the local museum, furthered the town’s growth. Today the Alger Maximum Security Prison, one of the U.P.’s many state prisons, is south of town. Built in 1990, it has a staff of 406 and can hold 532 prisoners. Sizable plants using U.P. timber are an even bigger part of the local economy. The old paper mill, started in 1903, dominates the shoreline just east of downtown. It's now owned by Kimberly Clark. With 460 workers, the plant uses U.P. hardwoods to make special papers such as the brown patch on the back of Levi’s Jeans, the little label on Chiquita bananas, and the labels on Elmer's glue bottles
A big sawmill now owned by Oregon’s Timber Products operates on M-28 six miles east of Munising. Fifty workers saw 70,000 board feet of maple day. The best of the lumber is used by furniture and cabinetmakers, while pallet makers buy the lower grades. Next to the sawmill Timber's planer mill has another 30 workers and a veneer mill has 140 workers who take top-grade maple, beech, and birch and peel off strips 1/36 of an inch at a time.
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