By Capt. Fred Davis

At the tip of Michigan’s Thumb, where Lake Huron meets Saginaw Bay, an entirely new Michigan Department of Natural Resources harbor facility is ready to greet boaters. One of the state’s early harbors of refuge, Port Austin has been undergoing re-construction for over four years at a cost of some $6 million. Delays in funding set the date back many times, but finally the harbor was completed in July.

Recent construction of a visitor’s center and beachfront pavilion at Veterans Park adjoins the harbor area. Beach expansion, picnic and playground, walkways and a scenic turnaround were also developed. The entire parking and ramp area were reconfigured with a new layout to accommodate larger trailered vessels. Dredging of the outer harbor by the U.S. Corps of Engineers to a depth of 10 feet took place four years ago.

Next, replacement of sections of the east cement dock were required to rebuild it. A driven steel wall was installed, and the original dock was widened and resurfaced with new fittings. Fuel lines and pump-out equipment were replaced. The east half of the inner harbor was dredged to a depth of 7.5 feet. All-new floating docks and wall slips, with 50-amp electrical and new plumbing to each, were installed and immediately put into service.

The entire harbor, including the launch and parking area, was closed to begin the final construction. The old west dock system was removed — old plumbing and electrical, plus the entire dock base and pilings. The rest of the inner harbor was dredged, and a large stone that many vessels had encountered over the years was blasted and removed.

Additional dredging near the shore area and installation of a new ramp base and anchors for a series of floating docks with new service to each completed the final construction.

From the east, a reef requires you pass the lighthouse two miles offshore. Give it a wide berth on your port and locate the 1 can. After rounding it on your port, take a southerly course toward the harbor entrance, which is marked with red and green at the breakwalls entry.

From the west, take a heading toward 3 green can. When you approach it, the entrance markers are clearly in view.

From the north, look for the 1 can, pass it on your port and head south to the harbor. The dock monitors VHF channels 16 and 9 and will issue slip assignments once you enter the harbor.

A Small, Friendly Community

Within the first block after you walk up from dockside are six restaurants, a hardware store with boat supplies, an emporium with gifts, great food, soda fountain and an ice cream cone to eat on the way back to the boat.

If you want a second choice for a scoop, turn west at the intersection and venture one block to the ice cream parlor. As you head that way, the bakery will give you an idea for morning; it opens at 5 a.m. and has the coffeepot waiting. Or, step across the street and enjoy a full breakfast at the Café, which also opens early. The Port Austin State Harbor sign. Final construction pahse of harbor in May 2014. Port Austin Reef Lighthouse sits two miles offshore; give it a wide berth.

Also in the first block, there is a full grocery store, where you can stock up your cooler. Across the street is a National Historic building that houses a gourmet restaurant providing indoor and outdoor dining. As you stroll back to the dock, additional restaurants and a tavern are sure to interest you with a variety of choices. Port Austin’s Pizzeria is known throughout the area for serving up all meals Italian. Try the Farm Restaurant for outstanding meals and fabulous desserts.

Youngsters will enjoy playing each of the miniature golf courses that are within walking distance. An outstanding 18-hole golf course will pick up and deliver you back to the dock after a day’s outing. A kayak shop, only a short walk east of the intersection, rents kayaks and standup paddleboards to tour the shoreline by water. You can also rent a bike to tour by land, or a horse and buggy will take you for a pleasant tour of the town after 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

If you’re in port on Saturday, don’t miss the Farmers Market. It’s one of the 10 best in the state, with fresh veggies, baked goods and handmade crafts. It’s just a short stroll from the dock, but bring a cart or tote bag to haul the goodies home. Live theater is offered at the Port Austin Community Playhouse (check the schedule). Thumb Arts Guild, made up of area artists, offers activities and items for sale at its shop in town.

A groomed beach is alongside the docks, and another is at the County Park across from the east dock. A kiddie playground, picnic pavilion and Veterans Park are adjacent to the west docks. For the ambitious, a catwalk leading to the breakwall provides a scenic mile round-trip walk or jog.

The Thumb peninsula, and Port Austin at its very tip, is a great location to see the sun rise and set over the water. If you just want to sit back and relax on board, most evenings present spectacular views. For the early risers, a brilliant sunrise awaits.

With the opening of the boat launch, slips and completion of the new dock, Port Austin’s harbor will be one of the finest and most accommodating harbors in the state of Michigan.


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Copyright © Fred Davis. All rights reserved.