Wigwams, farming taught at new Michigan’s Heritage Park

Stephen Kloosterman
Muskegon Chronicle

Whitehall Township — A new park offers visitors a time travel experience back through Michigan history.

The newly constructed Michigan’s Heritage Park opened last month in Whitehall. The park has been in the stages of planning, fundraising and construction for years.

“This is the only place I know of where you’re actually walking through time,” Lakeshore Museum Center Executive Director John McGarry told The Muskegon Chronicle.

Visitors can travel half a mile along a handicap-accessible loop trail with historical exhibits pulled from the past 10,000 years of state history. There’s a replica mastodon skeleton, American Indian wigwams, an English fur-trader’s cabin and stockade, a Civil War camp, a logging shanty, a settler’s cabin and a 1900 farm house. Placards along the way help to explain the context of each exhibit.

Costumed interpreters explain history to attendees, but they won’t be acting out a character or pretend to feign ignorance of modern technology. Attendees aren’t forced to listen to recited historical lessons, just get an opportunity to learn through questions, exploring — and most of all, doing.

At each site, attendees help presenters partake in day-to-day activities like baking food on an open hearth, spinning wool, churning butter, grinding coffee grounds or weeding a garden.

The idea is that the smell of fresh bread or the warmth of a stone hearth will linger in the memory longer than simple talk.

“They remember what they do, more than what you tell them,” employee Wendy Van Woerkom said.

The activities vary from day to day, so people who attend on more than one occasion, may try different jobs and learn new things.

“You’d probably have two completely different visits and experiences,” McGarry said.

Some parts of the buildings and their furniture were fabricated by museum staff. Other parts of the furniture are restored antiques.

Attendees can see the progression in living standards and technology from age to age: with a carved washing stick in the settler’s cabin to a metal washboard in the 1900s farm house.

Special activities are planned for the season, which will run through the end of October.

If you go

■Michigan’s Heritage Park is open Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

■On Sundays, the park is open from 1 to 4 p.m.

■The park is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.