Sault Ste. Marie, MI - The ‘Gathering Place’
Published: Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Many people associate water with rebirth and life itself, so it is no surprise that Sault Ste. Marie, with the St. Mary’s River winding through town and the river’s rapids at its feet, has been a gathering place for people looking to sustain themselves for more than 2,000 years.
As the oldest city in Michigan and one of the oldest in the country, Sault Ste. Marie is recognized as “the place where Michigan was born.” The city was established in 1668, but Native people have known “Bawating,” the Ojibwe word for “gathering place,” for many years before that time. Ojibwe and Anishinabe people came to the rapids in the spring, summer, and fall to fish and hunt, and today, many people still do.
The whitefish that Sault Ste. Marie’s original inhabitants found are still here, along with new arrivals, such as Atlantic salmon, which have been stocked by Lake Superior State University’s Aquatic Research Laboratory since 1987.
While people originally came here in the summer and fall to find fish and game, today they are joined by those attracted to stunning fall colors in northern hardwoods or self-proclaimed “boat nerds,” who will find no better place to watch and photograph lake and ocean freighters moving through the Soo Locks between Lakes Superior and Huron.
Sault Ste. Marie, the place where Michigan was born, is still the gathering place.
Tourists bring boats of all shapes and sizes to Sault Ste. Marie. Whether you’re pulling a runabout on a trailer or piloting your cruiser to stay in one of the Sault’s two marinas, you will find plenty to keep yourself occupied.
Charles T. Harvey Marina, named after a Soo Locks architect, offers boaters a place to stay outside of downtown Sault Ste. Marie. The marina overlooks the islands of the “Little Rapids,” an area of the river recently restored to provide improved fish and wildlife habitat, and Voyageur Island, which is becoming known as a paddling destination. The marina offers a ramp, pump-out, restrooms/showers, and ice.
Although it does not have a ramp, the city’s newer George Kemp Marina, which can accommodate vessels up to 75 ft., offers fuel, water and electric, showers, restrooms, internet, and ice, all near the foot of the Soo Locks and its busy freighter traffic. Its downtown location puts it within an easy walk or bike to the downtown shopping district, Soo Locks, and more. The marina is adjacent to the Sault’s Historic Home District, which showcases some of the residences of the Sault’s early European settlers, as well as the museum ship Valley Camp and nearby Tower of History which, as the name suggests, offers historical information as well as an incredible view of the area.
If you’re hauling your boat, increased Great Lakes water levels in recent years have expanded the list of places where runabouts may launch. Small state launches such as that in the Munuscong River State Forest Campground are being used again, but those such as the Conley Point launch on the south end of Scenic Drive in Barbeau, south of the Sault, Gregory Launch downstream from the Soo Locks, and Ashmun Bay boat launch just upstream of the Locks, have always provided reliable, deep-water access for smaller boats looking to fish or cruise the St. Mary’s.
While larger boats are fine for finding private bays for fishing or bird-watching among the many islands downstream, more and more people are discovering Sault Ste. Marie as the place to be with your canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard. On the west side of town, an extensive sand flat provides plenty of shallow-water paddling, while on the east side of town, downstream from the Locks, paddlers can check out the hiking trails and river vistas on and around Voyageur Island.
No matter what size boat you are piloting in and around the Sault, be aware of the shipping channel and international boundary between the U.S. and Canada. Give freighters plenty of room, and check out regulations for sailing in Canadian waters, especially if you are dropping an anchor or have alcohol on board. The winding course of the St. Mary’s means you can be in and out of U.S. and Canadian territory. Check out the Sault Convention and Visitors Bureau website, saultstemarie.com, for information on navigating through the U.S. and Canadian locks.
If you’re looking at all of the forested shoreline and abundant coastal marshes while cruising the river and thinking that it would be a great place to hunt and fish, you’d be correct. The river’s shores are bordered by a mixture of public and private land where river travelers have been hunting and fishing, hiking and camping for many, many years. Autumn is a great time to do all of that, with salmon migrating up the river, waterfowl and other birds migrating down it, and fall colors setting up a magnificent background to see it all. If you seek a private place to drop anchor and spend the night, you will have no trouble finding it, especially in places such as Potagannissing Bay, which is just north of another popular state marina in DeTour Village.
Of course, all of the splendor of the Sault and area can’t be seen from a boat. Step on shore to check out not only local attractions in town, but others such as Tahquamenon Falls, Whitefish Point, Mission Hill outlook, Lime Island State Recreation Area (with deep-water docking), and many, many more.
To find more information about Sault Ste. Marie and the surrounding area attractions, visit the Sault Convention and Visitors Bureau website, saultstemarie.com, stop by the office at 225 E. Portage Ave., or call 800-647-2858 or 906-632-3366. To inquire about the Harvey Marina, call 906-632-5768 or check out the City of Sault Ste. Marie website, saultcity.com. To make a reservation or find out more about George Kemp Marina, visit midnrreservations.com, call 800-44-PARK or 906-635-7670. To read more about the Soo Locks history, visit bit.ly/2vDZChJ (www.lre.usace.army.mil/Missions/Recreation/Soo-Locks-Visitor-Center) for the Visitor Center website.