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Charlton Park FEB 20 09

I’d been this way before any number of times over the years, but this was the first time I ever noticed the old cabin tucked back in the woods. Probably that’s because I haven’t made a point of driving through in the winter. Not that the road is bad—the drive into Charlton Park is quite good any time of year. But I typically reserve my visits to this unique and attractive location for the warmer months. Then—when the old historic village and museum are alive with visitors and events, and picnickers and swimmers dot the waterfront where the broad Thornapple River rolls lazily by—then is when I like to drop into this large, beautiful, and multifaceted park several miles east of Hastings, Michigan.

From fishing, to photography, to birding, to family outings, to Michigan history and more, Charlton Park offers something for just about everyone. Even cabins in the woods for winter wanderers like me looking for something a little different with which to fill their camera lenses.

The cabin called for exploration, and naturally I responded. I have no idea what its history is. It could be a relatively recent reconstruction, but given its weatherbeaten appearance and its location a few hundred yards up a wooded slope from a historic community, it’s reasonable to assume that the old structure is an original pioneer dwelling. The raised foundation suggests that it may have been moved from somewhere nearby to where it now stands. Or maybe not. I didn’t find any mention of it in the Charlton Park website, so the story behind it remains a mystery. What’s plain to see, though, is that the cabin is remarkably well constructed, a very sturdy-looking log dwelling dovetailed together with amazing precision.

Sundry items on the premises add to the sense of human presence—a shed for firewood on the northwest side; a rustic, picturesque rain barrel up against the east wall. The grounds, if not the cabin itself, appear to be used for something—school groups, Boy Scout outings, who knows?

Leaving the cabin, I hopped in my car and continued down the road toward the park office and the historic village. Originally known as Indian Landing, the town was once a thriving nineteenth century community, and today it is preserved as a landmark jam packed with fascinating insights into life in an 1800’s Michigan settlement. Look through the website and you’ll be amazed at what this park has to offer in the way of educational programs, events, volunteer opportunities, forestry, and recreation. Charlton Park is a class act and one of the true jewels of Barry County, Michigan.

Today, however, with a cold northwest wind blowing snow across the empty parking lot, you’d have had to use your imagination to picture the place filled with people strolling down tree-shaded walks past the Bristol Inn, the cooper’s shop, the blacksmith shop, the one-room schoolhouse, and so forth.

On a rise overlooking the rest of the village stands the Carlton Center Church. My hands were growing numb, but the lovely, white building with its picturesque steeple was too photogenic to pass up. Built in 1885, the structure served as a Methodist Episcopal church until 1975, when it was moved from its original location in Carlton Center to Charlton Park. Complete with all of its original furnishings, the church is still used today for weddings—and as a subject for wayfaring writers bearing cameras.

If you think of Barry County as little more than a hinterland of lakes, wetlands, farms, and state game land, then a visit to Charlton Park will change your mind. Whether you want to experience a cross-section of Michigan history, picnic in a pavilion, or simply relax with a book beneath a shady maple by the riverside, treat yourself to an afternoon at the park. Bring your family, your date, or just yourself. You’ll thank yourself for taking you there.





Written by Dave.