Port Austin, is at the the tip of Michigan’s Thumb. The end of the road. From such a stance one can stand in the harbor and see a beautiful sunrise and sunset over Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay without moving an inch. Blessed with clear water, sandy beaches and dunes, unique rock formations, and the finest fishing anywhere.
Cute shops, a top rated farmer’s market, a variety of parks, camping, accommodations and visitor ‘fun stuff’ are all plentiful.
Travel West on M-25 and find the shoreline dotted with parks, beaches and recreational facilities. Head East and visit historic areas such as Grindstone City. Go back in time with in the the restored lumber town museum of Huron City. Take in the vista at Lighthouse County Park featuring historic Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse.
The Butterfly House and Gardens give you a chance to see various Michigan species of butterflies up close and personal. The 30×50 netted house and surrounding gardens are beautifully landscaped and many of the plants are identified.
The butterflies are grown and collected in the late spring and raised for the summer season. They are set free to migrate south as the season changes to fall. Visitors can stroll through the inside enclosure to view the butterflies or the surrounding gardens. There are places to sit and quietly view the amazingly entertaining creatures.
A Garden of Ideas for Your House or Cottage
If you’re a gardener, the Butterfly House and Gardens offer a chance to see which plants are suitable to draw the butterflies into your own garden or yard. In 2017, bees were purchased and the hives were visible nearby.
Strong Community Support
The Port Austin Lions Club adopted the effort to bring the butterfly house to the city. It was completed in 2017 as part of the Lions Club 100-year Anniversary Centennial Project. Also chipping in with financial help and support was the Huron County Community Foundation, the Village Downtown Development Authority, United Way and the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative.
Future Plans for Tower Park
The Butterfly Garden Project was completed by the local community to utilize a seldom visited park in Port Austin and transform it into a visitor destination. There are future plans for landscaped pollinator and gardens to be established and grow food in the park for donations to local charities and food banks. In 2017, senior landscape architecture students from Michigan State University presented a park and streetscaping plan for the village. The Port Austin city council will consider incorporating those ideas into a master plan for the water tower park.
The Butterfly House and Gardens are located next to the large water tower at the corner of Madison & Adams Street and offer plenty of parking.
Related Stories to the Port Austin Butterfly House
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 Fingersnoted 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
The 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
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
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
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
In 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
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.