MARQUETTE, Mich. (Michigan Back Roads) – The section of M-28 between Marquette and Au Train runs along the shore of Lake Superior with beautiful lakeshore scenery. About midway, opposite that lakeshore, a huge sign announces an unusual attraction: Lakenenland “Junkyard Art”.
To describe Lakenenland as a sculpture park is a bit misleading. Dozens of sculptures are scattered through 37 acres and a nice track allows access to a everyone. However, these are high falutin works that usually come to mind when one thinks sculpture, you know, like Michaelangelo or something. No, these works of art are made from tons of scrap metal collected from sites all over the U.P.
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When you pull in, you pass a small pond. and just past that is the parking area. Next to the parking area is a large pavilion with seating and shade. From the parking area you can enter the sculpture section by walking, driving, cycling, whatever your preference.
The scrap has been transformed into more than 80 installations that are true to the region, great fun to see, and in a beautiful wooded setting. There are depictions you would expect to find in the far north, like the two giant lumberjacks working a log with their crosscut saw or the Finnish Dog Sled. Others are a bit different, a helicopter, a Tasmanian Devil, a bar band, a UFO, and the ever popular, log with bowling balls growing out of the north side, where they always grow in the wild.
There is another special feature of this park. Travel in the upper peninsula involves a lot of driving on two lane roads that run through thick forests. Often, the forest hugs the side of the road and is so dense, you can’t see what might be hidden just a short distance inside. At Lakenenland, there is a trail that can provides visitors a glimpse of what parts of that wild forest can be like. Directly across from that pond at the entrance is a gateway, easy to miss it, with a sign that says Bog Trail. If you want a fun walk, take time to follow the trail. It is a short, 1/4 mile, walking only trail, that is scenic and educational. Be aware, the bog trail does go through a woodland and a wetland, expect the usual denizens like mosquitoes and black flies. Always take precautions against ticks and keep pets on a leash.
The first leg of the trail isn’t terribly remarkable. It’s an undulating pathway through the pines and cedars with some small open viewing areas, a nice easy stroll. Then you come to a sign just before a plank bridge across a damp area. That plank is a test. The sign cautions that there is a narrow boardwalk ahead and if you have trouble crossing the plank, you should turn back. Heed the warning because in a short distance you will encounter a winding plank boardwalk made of split logs. That log pathway is the return leg of the trail. The planks are only 12 to 16 inches wide, there is no handrail and if you step off you will be in the bog. If you can manage it, you are in for a treat. The wooden path is raised above the bog by a foot or so and takes you into a swampy area that would ordinarily be inaccessible to all but the most dogged hikers. There are a couple of places where there are benches for a short rest and there are interpretive signs that describe the plant and animal life that inhabit this kind of ecosystem.
After short way along the log pathway, you will see words painted on the log road like, “Bear Cub”, “Snow Owl” or “Fox”. Pause at each of those spots and examine the area around you. Somewhere in the trees, stumps and wildflowers, will be a silhouette of the animal named. These cutouts are fun as is everything in this park. For instance, when you see the words “Whitetail Deer” it won’t be a silhouette of a big buck with a majestic rack that you see. Instead, there will be only the hind end of the deer with the white tail pointed straight up, just like the glimpse of a deer running away that many a frustrated hunter has seen. Be sure to watch for the rubber boots sticking up out of the swamp at one place. They are a nod to the ongoing battle between the creator of this fantastic place and the local bureaucrats who would like to shut the whole thing down.
Lakenenland can also be reached on a snowmobile trail designated as #417. The park is open year-round and during the winter there is often a fire in the fireplace inside the pavilion.
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