Tag Archives: Art

How Art, a Farm Market, and Kayaking Saved Port Austin

Drive from any point south of Michigan’s Thumb north to its tip and you will encounter small towns and villages hanging on by a thread. Vacant storefronts, abandoned shops, and remnants of roadside stands abound in the formerly robust four corner rural villages that were common in Michigan at the turn of last century. (Make that from 1800-1900) These small towns were social and economic hubs in the days before the car and paved roads. Stories of travel in the historical fiction murder mystery The Thumb Pointed Fingers noted took a solid day or two to get from Bad Axe to Detroit via the railroad. The area’s remoteness made it sensible for each village or town to have several stores, hotels, and diners.

Today these small towns are struggling to survive. Caseville Cheeseburger Festival offers merchants a chance to make their year profitable in a single week. Thousands of tourists descend for a burger and a beer while wearing a grass skirt and having a good time. Indeed, summer festivals in the Thumb celebrate beans, polka, sugar, potatoes, fish sandwiches, and chicken wings. Each of these small rural towns is looking for ways to draw folks in and keep their local businesses going.

Port Austin – Not an Event but a Destination

Port Austin Farmers MarketThe town at the tip of the Thumb has taken a different approach; offer the town has a destination for the entire summer season. It was the 4th of July weekend in 2005 that the Port Austin Farmers Market debuted with just over 50 vendors. Now with over a dozen years in operation, Port Austin claims to host one of the largest outdoor markets in Michigan. Today permanent vendor booths have been built and the market operates each Saturday for six months of the year with over 150 vendors participating. The Farmers Market offers one of the best examples of farm-to-table opportunities anywhere with fresh produce, fruits, meats, and fish along with baked and gourmet canned goods. It was the vision and early leadership of John and Lisa Pridnia who, along with many others had the energy and forethought to get the Port Austin farmers market to the success that it has become today.

A Lawyer Makes a Float Plan for Port Austin 

Pointe Aux Barques Paddle

Operating outside the fringe of the Port Austin Farmers Market was the paddler crowd. In 2007 Chris Boyle, a local attorney, founded Port Austin Kayak. (Affectionately called “PAK”)  He invited paddlers to join him in 2008 to a summer of weekend paddles circumventing the entire Thumb shoreline on the Tip of the Thumb Heritage Water Trail along its 25 access points.  In 2012 Boyle worked with Michigan State University faculty and students to create a concept of a  “third place”;  an informal gathering spot outside home and work to share and express ideas. As a further outcome, Boyle and his wife came up with the concept of C.R.E.A.T.E., which stands for Community, Recreation, Environment, Arts, Tourism and Entertainment. A moniker which has seemed to take on a life of its own in this coastal community. 

Two Simple Kayak Trails Have Sparked a New Interest in Port Austin 

Turnip Rock Kayak

Today the PAK offers novice and experienced kayakers the opportunity to explore some of the most scenic sea kayaking trails in lower Michigan. From the harbor, a few miles along the beach is all that separates one from a site deemed by CNN as the “Most Unique Rock Formation in America”, Turnip Rock,  which lays a few miles east. While a gentle paddle to the west reveals the accessible and climbable Broken Rocks formations along the shore. This enterprise has offered 1000’s an opportunity to see a beautiful bit of Michigan and offer Port Austin as an entry point for the experience.

An Old Barn Offers a Blank Canvas

hygienic dress league corporation

It was a simple idea. Paint a large mural on the side of a very weathered barn. Husband and wife visual artists Steve and Dorota Coy came to such a barn in the Upper Thumb in 2013 and changed the direction of Port Austin’s art scene. Their company, Hygienic Dress League works in the community combining business and art with its uses the platform of street art and public art to create their own marketing campaign and bring art to the masses. Their public interventions have surfaced in over nineteen different cities in nine countries spanning across three continents. With the painting of a pigeon on one side of the barn and a version of American Gothic in gas masks on the other, the barn has taken on new life. (However, the work has faded over the past 5 years) Its one of the 10 destination barns for viewing. 

Barn to Ark in Port Austin

Emergency-Ark-Barn-ArtIn June 2015 artist Scott Hocking came to Port Austin at the encouragement of former Port Austin native Jim Boyle to start a series of 10 projects around Port Austin. Finding an 1800’s barn south of Oak Beach, he transformed the structure into a larger than life form entitled “Emergency Ark”. The looming work denotes sanctuary and safety and took five months to construct. This represented another destination piece from a local project called 10 barns in 10 years. An effort to create works of art on barns that art and sculpture enthusiasts can travel about Huron country to view. 

The Community Expands Beyond Port Austin

White Church Gallery

Efforts to make Port Austin a unique and welcoming destination seem to be paying off. The Detroit News ran an article over the 2018 Labor Day weekend that noted that Port Austin has become an “Artistic Beacon” of the region This series of investments by the Upper Thumb community, such as the nearby  White Church Gallery,  looks to have paid off with more visitors trekking up M-53 for a day trip or for a beachfront cottage for the entire summer. 

ThumbWind Logo


Things to Do In Caseville if You Are Bored with the Cheeseburger Festival

The Cheeseburger in Caseville festival is a summertime fun-filled family event with plenty to do and see. However, there is only so much grass skirt, trinket stands, and cheeseburgers that one can handle for the multi-weekend event. What else is there to do in Michigan’s Upper Thumb? Here are some suggestions if you, or more likely the kids, have had enough fun with the parrot head life.


Learn About Wind Power and Tour a Michigan Wind Farm

The entire Thumb is a recognized regional leader in renewable energy. DTE is offering a hands-on experience with exhibits in its Bad Axe discovery center.  If you have a family or group tours can be arranged for the nearby wind farms. 

We have more information Explore Renewable Energy and Tour Michigan Wind Farms.  Arrange a visit to the Discovery Center or arrange a tour by calling Michael Sage at 989.269.5805.

Caseville Giant Slide

The Giant Slide in Caseville

Refurbished in 2015, Key North offers classic fun and great photo and video opportunities The whole family or group of friends can race down a huge multi-lane slide or race on a huge go-kart track. Great for working off that extra cheeseburger and fries. Located on the south side of Caseville toward Bay Port. 

Turnip Rock Kayak

Paddle A Kayak


If its a calm day with little or no wave action rent some kayaks in Port Austin and paddle east to Turnip Rock or explore the formations of Broken Rocks west of the harbor. Both water trails are relatively easy to do and offer some great scenery. Turnip Rock can only be seen from the water so bring your waterproof camera for some great shots. 

Port Austin Go Karts

Need for Speed with Go Carts in Port Austin & Caseville

The Upper Thumb now has two full-featured go-kart tracks. In  Port Austin. The track is large and its ideal for a tasting of real racing. As an adult, you can take the little ones on a full throttle ride around a great winding track. Check out Family Go Karts in Port Austin south of town off of M-53. In Caseville, Key North Mini Golf and Family Fun Center sport the largest track in mid-Michigan. With 15 new karts and some two-seaters so mom or dad can drive the youngsters around that are too small to do it themselves. 

Miniature Golf in Caseville and Port Austin

Miniature Golf
Pixabay/eberhartmark /CC0

There are numerous classic Putt-Putt and other family-friendly courses in Port Austin, and Caseville. While the adults may think of these as trite and insignificant, the kids will remember these little family jaunts for a lifetime. Take advantage of these roadside attractions before they disappear to X Box video games. The biggest of the miniature golf circuit is Sandy Dunes Adventure Golf. It’s a short drive east of Caseville this modern course sports Huron County’s largest, (and only), waterfall in the Thumb. 

Visit a Working Fish Company in Bay Port


Bayport Fish Company – Visit one of the few remaining operational commercial fish operations on the Great Lakes. Purchase fresh fish on-site and watch the operations. (Hope you like the smell of fish). If you’re in Caseville you can see their vessel Osprey tied up south of the break wall. Open seven days a week. 

Visit a Large Outdoor Farmers Market

Port Austin Farmers Market

Port Austin Farmers Market – Open Saturday mornings during the summer season. Crafts, fresh locally produced fruits, fresh and smoked fish, vegetables, craft foods and flea market items.  Considered the largest open-air market in the Thumb. Port Austin. 

Visit a Huge Octagon Barn near Gagetown

Octagon Barn Gagetown Michigan

Octagon Barn – The Thumb Octagon Barn Agricultural Museum is located in Tuscola County approximately 1 mile east of the Village of Gagetown along Bay City Forestville Road 1 mile north on Richie Road, just south of the Huron County border. 

Take a Peek at the Past in Huron City

Huron City Museum –  See Huron County has it thrived in the late 1800’s. The House of Seven Gables, a beautifully preserved Victorian home, sits on a bluff overlooking Lake Huron. The General Store, a Methodist church, an inn, and barns were built during the 1880’s. With a post office, general store, a rooming house, and mills, Huron City were well equipped to serve the northern county farmer. Huron City. 

Commune With Nature Near Caseville and Port Austin

Huron Nature Center

Huron County Nature Center & Wilderness Arboretum – A 280 acre Nature Center established on a tract of untouched land in Hume Township, Michigan, the Huron County Nature Center and Wilderness Arboretum have been under the tender care of the Huron County Women’s Clubs since 1941. Located halfway between Caseville and Port Austin across from Oak Beach. 

Philp County Park Beach

Play on the Beach All Over Huron County

Hit the Beach – There are numerous public beaches throughout Huron County in which to cool off, enjoy a picnic while the kids play in the playground. Most beaches offer ample parking with some picnic tables, restroom and changing areas and grills for making your own cheeseburger. 

Caseville Musuem

Hands on With History in Caseville

Caseville Museum – Located just one block from Main Street in Caseville you can see artifacts and local treasures from yesteryear. Special events are often held weekly and it offers a quick diversion from the crowds. 

Rush Lake and Sand Road ORV

Off Road Trails
Use Caution on these Trails

Located just south of Sleeper State Park this unimproved road runs from Caseville to Port Austin by way of various roads and trails. If you have a 4×4  and want to try your hand at light off-roading this is worth an hour of looking around the woods. Sand Road is found about a mile south of the cross streets of M-23 and State Park Road. Be prepared. The road is sometimes impassable after rain and the sand can get deep. Only the most adventurous find the ancient and reedy Rush Lake. There are numerous hiking and biking paths. As most of this is on state land its best to have your State Park Passport and ORV sticker in case the DNR stops you.

Get Some Ice Cream in Grindstone City

Rybak's Ice Cream

Escape the crazy crowds for an hour and explore another side of the Thumb. In Grindstone City there are two renowned ice cream shops. The Grindstone General Store and Rybak’s Ice Cream Store. Grindstone General Store is known for its insanely large ice cream cones while Rybak’s is the place for high-end ice cream and homemade candy. Both are located in historic buildings from the 1800’s Rybak’s large front porch is an ideal place to chat with friends and reminisce about your Cheeseburger day. 


Get Artsy in Grindstone City and BadAxe

The  Upper Thumb now has two gallery’s, in Bad Axe the Lofty Roots Gallery and Studio opened in 2015 with six local artists exhibiting. While in Grindstone City the White Church Gallery draws in artists from all over Michigan and Florida. Founded by Mike and Carrie Zaitz in a renovated 1800’s church.  Both galleries are excellent diversions from the Cheeseburger hangover.