A 92-mile section of US-2 along the north shore of Lake Michigan in the Upper Peninsula officially became the latest Pure Michigan Byway in a ceremony on Friday, Oct. 6, in Naubinway attended by local and state officials, Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) staff, and residents.
The new US-2 Top of the Lake Scenic Byway is located in Mackinac and Schoolcraft counties, running from St. Ignace to Thompson, following Lake Michigan’s picturesque north shore in the southeastern U.P. It was chosen for the designation based on its outstanding recreational and scenic qualities. It joins 20 other showpiece highways around Michigan in the Pure Michigan Byways program, now encompassing 1,152 miles of state trunkline.
The president of the Top of the Lake Communities Association, Dean Brodberg, praised the efforts of dozens of communities and groups that came together to back the byway project, and he explained the new route’s name. “It’s interesting to me that many people don’t realize that where you’re sitting today is basically at the top of Lake Michigan.”
Dave Nyberg, Gov. Rick Snyder’s northern Michigan office director, said he frequently travels the byway in his travels throughout the region. “When traveling back from Lansing or lower Michigan, I always feel that I’m finally home when greeted by the scenic vistas along this special stretch of Pure Michigan.” He said the route is a great fit for the program, right down to the appearance of the byway signs.
“As a matter of fact, looking at the sign, I think all you’re missing is some dunes there,” Nyberg said. “This sign may be inspired by your scenic byway.”
Motorists can follow the new byway from downtown St. Ignace all the way west through Manistique to Thompson. Built on the traces of an ancient Native American trade route, US-2 winds along tall bluffs and then dives down to skirt miles of deserted beaches. Along the way, the route passes villages like Brevort, Epoufette, Naubinway, Gould City, and Gulliver; scenic roadside turnouts; state and federal campgrounds; and many all-season recreation opportunities.
Byways aren’t a new concept, but there have been some recent changes to the state’s program. Established by the Michigan Legislature in 1993, the Michigan Heritage Route program was founded as a grassroots effort uniting local residents, government officials, landowners, and other interested groups in a common cause to preserve the state’s unique scenic, historic or recreational highways.
In 2014, MDOT and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) collaborated to reinvent the program. The name change from Heritage Route to Pure Michigan Byway required legislative action. Along with the name change came a new design for route marking signs.
“The 2014 rebranding tied the byway program much more closely to the successful Pure Michigan travel and tourism campaign,” said Vince Bevins, transportation planner for MDOT’s Superior Region. “Byways are a great way to highlight our rich heritage of local highways and roadsides, and they can play an important role in improving Michigan’s economy and quality of life.”
In addition to promoting the communities and the scenic, recreational, historical, cultural, natural, and archaeological features along a byway, the designation also helps routes compete for state and federal funding to assist with future route planning. Historically, planning projects for byways have included sign studies, nonmotorized trail planning, marketing plans, and corridor management plan updates.