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Images of Grand Mere


All along the west coast of Lower Michigan, from its southern shores to its windy northern points, a vast tract of sandy beaches and dunes has created a landscape like no other—austere, often otherworldly, always beautiful. Swimmers, sun worshipers, and kite fliers use much of it to good advantage, crowding the state parks along Lake Michigan in the summertime, and pricey homes stand like sentinels along many miles of wooded dune tops.

But there are also places where you can go and find plenty of peace and quiet. Grand Mere State Park by Stevensville, Michigan, is such a place. Go there and you can find enough people to keep you from feeling totally isolated, but also enough space to find all the solitude you could hope for if you want it. Located off of I-94, eight miles south of Benton Harbor at exit 22, the 985-acre park includes a lovely little picnic area and playground situated on the southern side of North Lake. Farther south, a half-mile-long nature trail winds through the woods along South Lake toward a long stretch of open sand dunes and, ultimately, to the beach.


Purchased by the state in 1985 after a twenty-year battle to save the unique, highly coveted dunes from sand mining operations, Grand Mere offers a little something for everyone. For waterfowlers, goose blinds are scattered across North and Middle Lakes. Containing the deepest and most open water of the three lakes that lie within the park, North Lake invites fishing. Picnickers will enjoy the pavilion in the small park by the northern parking lot, while beach lovers hardy enough to brave the long trek across open sand dunes and take their risks with the sand flies will be rewarded with an uncrowded shoreline. Much of the park is open to hunting. And for the hiker and naturalist, a nature trail with side trails extending off of it provides pathways into the park’s interior, and a cranberry bog on South Lake and a hemlock forest on the park’s south end invite exploration.

GrandMereMichigan4I can only guess at the origin of the name “Grand Mere.” A mere is a lake or an expanse of water, and there are three such bodies of water in the park, grading in depth (as you may already have guessed) from the shallow, boggy South Lake to the relatively deep North Lake. The lakes are a by-product of the dunes, and the dunes themselves are something I have yet to explore. On my visit to Grand Mere earlier this week, I got a taste of the northern side of the park, drove the forest road on the southern end, and hiked a segment of the nature trail from the parking lot in the middle. The trail was both pretty and fascinating, with plants unfamiliar to me. One of them, some sort of vine, hung a solitary, cordate leaf in a shaft of sunlight, glowing against the dark forest background like an emerald heart.

GrandMereMichigan3I didn’t make it as far as the dunes. The mosquitoes, which had seemed surprisingly non-existent when I entered the trail, showed up suddenly and enthusiastically about a quarter-mile down, and I was unprepared with bug juice. That’s okay, though. The dunes will wait for another day, and I will return to explore them. Grand Mere is a place that invites exploration, from its easy-access points of interest to treasures only intrepid bushwhackers with a penchant for natural history are apt to find. It was good to get acquainted with the park; next time I’ll dig deeper. The fact that Grand Mere exists today, set aside as a unique and irreplaceable natural area, is a tribute to those who had the foresight to recognize that some things in our state have an intrinsic value. Once gone, that value can never be restored. But preserved place by place and case by case, it ensures that Michigan’s crown jewel—its natural beauty—will continue to shine brightly for generations to come.

Written by Robert Hartig.