Designated: September 25, 2000
Expanded: September 5, 2014
Area: 4,300 mi²
Thanks to Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the first sanctuary in the Great Lakes, America’s treacherous ‘Shipwreck Alley’ transformed into a destination of maritime heritage and culture and a major economic contributor to its community.
Along the shores of Alpena, Michigan, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary includes a heavily-trafficked stretch of water infamous for unpredictable weather, murky fog banks, sudden gales and rocky shoals.That nickname that sailors gave this area in the 1800s is justified. It’s home to one of the nation’s best-preserved, nationally-significant collections of shipwrecks. More than 100 wrecks have been discovered and more than 200 likely exist, kept intact by Lake Huron’s cold waters. In addition to sheer numbers, the diversity of the collection – pioneer sidewheel steamboats, schooners and modern steel freighters – captures the span of commerce and travel on the Great Lakes. Geological and archaeological evidence suggests prehistoric sites there as well.
Sanctuary visitors can enjoy diving, glass-bottom boat tours, kayaking, snorkeling and fishing. Education and outreach programs also provide understanding of the nation’s maritime history through the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary experts’ work discovering, protecting and interpreting wrecks.
Aside from the amazing exhibits that visitors can find there, the sanctuary’s Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center is a hub of community activity, including an annual film festival, haunted Halloween tours, and the epicenter of Alpena’s 4th of July festivities. The Center also features a rooftop garden installed by the Foundation that honors major Foundation donors and sanctuary supporters, Mr. Ned Lott and Ms. Lottie Lott.