Searching for a beautiful drive, an outdoor adventure and a bit of history? Look no further than Mission Point Lighthouse. Situated at the tip of Traverse City’s Old Mission Peninsula, Mission Point Lighthouse is the perfect daytime destination for families of all sizes, offering visitors a peek into what life was like for turn-of-the-century lighthouse keepers and others of that time. Now called Lighthouse Park (including the lighthouse building, wooded walking trails, beach and the historic Hessler Log Cabin), the area is a state and national historic site.
“We offer a self-guided tour,” lighthouse manager Sonja Richards tells us. “There is a museum on the second floor and guests can even climb up into the tower for a panoramic view of the point.” Tickets to explore are inexpensive: $4 for adults, $2 for children 6-12 and kids 5 and under visit for free.
Built in 1870 to prevent shipwrecks at the end of Old Mission Peninsula, the lighthouse is still in mint condition. With the advent of radar and new technologies, the lighthouse was boarded up in 1933 until local township members purchased the property in 1948. Volunteers and staff have worked to preserve the building, recreating the original keeper’s office, repairing the adjacent grounds and adding a gift shop and museum.
The park’s five acres of walking trails are perfect for a family hike or dog walking in all seasons. You can snowshoe in winter, find lush trillium and wildflowers in spring and enjoy beautiful summer and fall walks along the water. Some of the paths are so old, visitors can still see trees bent by Native Americans to mark the trail.
The historic Hessler Log Cabin was built in the 1850’s by Michigan pioneers Joseph and Mary Hessler. Today, you can see the restored cabin firsthand. On the last Sunday of June, the Old Mission Historical Society organizes an annual “Log Cabin Day” that offers tours and educational stations that feature 19th century furniture building, cooking over an open fire and more.
Although the original light mechanism used to warn ships disappeared shortly after the lighthouse closed, the Mission Point museum is hosting a duplicate of the original lens, a new exhibit this season. “The lighthouse used a 5th Order Fresnel Lens,” Richards explains. “We are lucky to have one on display right now. No lighthouse is complete without its lens.” This particular device, powered by whale oil or kerosene in its time, created light that could be seen 12 miles away.
Not only is the Fresnel Lens gracing the property, but lighthouse staff and volunteers are also excited to introduce a new trail program in the fall of 2011. “We are putting together an educational program that will be run by a former Old Mission Peninsula School teacher,” Richards says. “We are busy marking trails with interesting facts and signs that give more information about the area.” Be sure to check this out come fall along with the autumn foliage!This year, the lighthouse has several events planned, such as pottery painting, celebrating International Lighthouse and Lightship Weekend, fall hiking and crafts, a Christmas celebration and winter sleigh rides.
Lighthouse Park is located at the end of Old Mission Peninsula/M-37. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day of the summer and falls months (same hours on the weekends for November and December). Visitors and volunteers are always welcome! Please see missionpointlighthouse.com for more information.