Bay City State Park celebrates a century of memories

In 1923, Americans were enjoying radio at home and heading to theaters to watch (and hear) talking pictures. Jazz was slowly overtaking ragtime as the most popular music in the land.

In Bay City, Central High School was only a year old, Herman Hiss & Co. had already celebrated its 50th anniversary, and the Bay City State Park was taking shape.

The Bay City State Park was born after the city donated land along the Saginaw Bay to the Michigan Conservation System.

Prior to 1923, folks knew the area as Bay Park or Water Works Park because of the old water works building that the city owned. The city donated the park land to the Michigan Conservation System in 1922 and officially named it the Bay City State Park on Dec. 10, 1923.

Since then, the park has attracted swimmers, hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers, anglers, hunters, picnickers, wildlife enthusiasts, campers, and more to its more than 2,300 acres. The park includes more than 1,000 feet of beach and more than 2,000 acres of wetlands, woods, meadows, and prairies. Its habitat makes it a haven for migratory birds and bird watchers. It’s also home to wetland wildlife and plants.

Today, Bay City State Park, located at 3582 State Park Drive in Bangor Township, consists of:
  • Tobico Marsh, a watershed area that acts as a filter system for the streams and rivers that feed into the Saginaw Bay. The Tobico is one of the largest coastal wetlands on the Great Lakes.
  • A modern campground with 189 campsites and two mini-cabins for rent.
  • A day-use area including a beach, spray park, playground, and Saginaw Bay Visitor Center.
  • Five boating access sites throughout three counties (Bay, Arenac, and Tuscola).
  • Several satellite parking lots with access to the park’s water and trail systems.
  • Three trail systems, the 2.5-mile Bay City-Andersen Nature Trail, the 1.35-mile Bay City-Tobico Lagoon Trail, and the 3.3-mile Bay City-Tobico Marsh Trail.
The park has changed throughout the years, and more excitement is on the way.

Folks familiar with the park will have noticed several renovations already underway.
The Visitor’s Center at 3582 State Park Drive, has been under construction since fall of 2022. The museum area was demolished and is getting all new, upgraded displays. Plans include a STEM classroom with interactive exhibits for the kids. The outside is also being refinished with new siding and metal roofing. The goal is to open by mid-June.

Another focus has been making the park more accessible for all.

The beach features an ADA-access mat that allows those using wheelchairs to navigate along the sand. In the Fall of 2022, the park acquired a track chair that can run offroad, even in the sand. A Mobi-Chair® floating beach chair is available for users to enjoy the water. Anyone who needs these can use them for free. Simply call the park to confirm availability.

The campground and day use areas will be receiving some major face lifts. The all-new playground in the day use area will open this summer. Park managers also are waiting on approval of funding to replace the blacktop in the Day Use area, construct a bus turnaround, and add sidewalks for better pedal navigation around the park.

After Labor Day, the campground will close for some much-needed improvements. Upgraded electrical pedestals and additional full-hookup sites. The goal is to address drainage challenges that have caused major flooding and site closures in the past. An additional lane at the dump station will also help campers exit the campground more efficiently during the Sunday rush.

Both projects will finish in spring to re-open for spring or summer 2024, but the team doesn’t take these closures lightly.

“The first thing we’re losing is our Harvest Festivals. We have three weekends each year for trick-or-treating. That’s a big upset for the public; we’re getting a lot of calls,” said Park Manager Rich Fenner. “We’re just trying to get the word out as soon as possible so folks can make plans at other parks if they’d like.”

In lieu of the weekend camping, they are hosting a trunk or treat on Sat., Oct. 7. Regular campers are invited to participate, set up decorations, and hand out candy. Jonathan Massung, the park’s Interpreter, will conduct his annual Mother Nature trail hike on that day.

Along with the trunk or treating, the team is planning other special events this year. Those commemorating the anniversary are centered around a theme of “100 Years of Memories.”

This Earth Day – Sat., April 22 – marks the return of an in-person Bob Ross Run/Happy Little Trees 5k Run/Walk. Anyone who registered for the national event online can join the group. Registration closed March 1. Details are available here.

A “Splash Under the Stars” event will take place at the spray park, which opens May 26. Details about the event will be announced on Facebook. Early plans call for opening the park after dark and encouraging kids to wear glow bracelets. A fun family movie will show on the outdoor film projector.

A photo submission contest also will take place, this year showcasing memories made at the park.

To learn more about events at the park, check out its Facebook page. You can also sign up for alerts by texting BAYSIDE to 80888. These alerts are for major communications that impact park users.

Even as they plan special events to mark the park's first 100 years, the team hasn't lost sight of the reasons patrons enjoy the park every day.

 “We have a lot of folks that are within our three counties that camp here and use the park,” Fenner says. “That’s more than other state parks. I would say 70%, if not more, are local.”

Barker adds, “The beauty of it is you get that outdoor, that camping feeling, right in your back yard. If you have work or other reasons you need to stick close to home, you can come camp and still feel like you’re 200 miles away.”

The team wants to hear from the public when opportunities for improvement arise. Contact the park on Facebook Messenger, send an email to, or call (989) 684-3020.
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