The Crooked Porch was founded to capture snippets of life in Northern Michigan. As the site expands outside of the Petoskey/Harbor Springs area, I am forced to asked myself, “Where exactly is Northern Michigan?”
At first blush this seems an easy question to answer. Northern Michigan is ‘Up North’. It’s Petoskey, Cheboygan, the Mighty Mac, Traverse City, and the UP.
Up North, however, is not Northern Michigan. Up North is that vague place people go to escape their hometowns and relax. As a child growing up in Downriver Detroit, Up North meant Lake Orion in Oakland County. For my wife’s family, Up North meant their cabin near Beaverton, 20 miles north of Midland.
Up North is a feeling and way of life, not a place. It is a blanket of stars in the sky, fresh water, cool breezes, crisp snow, no traffic, fudge, campfires, cottages, wilderness. Defining Up North for this magazine would be as impossible as defining ‘home’.
Stripping away the idea of ‘Up North’, I start my journey to define Northern Michigan in, of all places, Clare.
The city of Clare advertises themselves as ‘Where the North Begins!’ I take a look at the map, and this seems reasonable to me. Clare appears to be in the middle of the state (north-south), or at least close to it. But is it the exact center of the state? Clare’s claim to be ‘Where the North Begins’ is a catchy slogan developed by a marketing team. Is it a true gateway to the north?
I decide to find the geographic center of the state.
The northern tip of Michigan is in Lake Superior (48°18′21″N – 88°22′11″W) and the southern tip is on the Michigan/Indiana Border (41°41′46″N – 84°48′22″W). The north/south distance between the two is 455.68 miles. Thus, if I measure 227.84 miles north of the southern tip, I should find the geographic center of Michigan.
Amazingly, this line runs almost exactly on the 45th parallel – 45°0′04″N. The line also, ironically, almost brushes the very southern tip of the UP. It feels an appropriate place to define Northern Michigan. Yet using this boundary, Traverse City, the Sleeping Bear Dunes, Grayling, Old Mission Peninsula and most of the Leelanau Peninsula would be considered in the south.
Let’s be fair. No one lives in the middle of Lake Superior. To use the far northern border of the state is a bit disingenuous. Instead let’s ignore the lake and Isle Royale, and use the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula in the Upper Peninsula as the northern most point (47°28′47″N).
If do that, we find that the new center line is at 44°35′16″N.
Here is a far more suitable boundary between north and south. It includes the portions of the northern Lower Peninsula that is traditionally considered ‘Northern Michigan’, Traverse City, the Sleeping Bear Dunes, Grayling, the majority of Oscoda County, and all of the Upper Peninsula.
Just out of curiosity, I also researched the population center of Michigan.
Located in the southeast corner of Bennington Township in Shiawassee County, the population center of Michigan is actually south of Flint.
Where does Northern Michigan begin for you?
Which of these three lines would you use as a southern border of Northern Michigan?
Are any of these lines surprising to you?
What do you consider ‘The Gateway to the North’?