Rockport To Be Featured on “Under the Radar” on PBS!

Friday, March 28, at The Fresh Palate a preview of the PBS “Under the Radar” TV show was shown. Rockport is one of the places featured in the episode. The hosts of the show were there as well. 
Celebrate International Dark Sky Week

The Friends of Rockport/Besser Natural Area, in cooperation with MDNR Parks & Recreation and Besser Museum, are sponsoring an event to celebrate International Dark Sky Week that runs from April 13-18, 2015.  On April 17th (April 18th if the weather doesn't cooperate) at 6 p.m. there will be a planetarium program at Besser Museum with director John Heath  to preview the current night sky.  At 8:30 p.m. anyone interested can meet at Rockport Harbor to view the actual sky.  Mr. Heath will be there to narrate the evening, point out the satellites, planets and stars as they become visible in the night sky.  When it gets dark enough, he'll point out the various constellations.  He will be bringing telescopes and showing guests how to use them.  You may wish bring lawn chairs (loungers are best) and warm blankets to enjoy the night sky in comfort. There will also be a bonfire.  
A Recreation Passport is required and is available in the Rockport Harbor boat launch area. 

Celebrate Michigan Trails Week by exploring Rockport State Recreation Area on Saturday, September 27!

Free park passage that day – no Recreation Passport required!

Besser Natural Area at the north end of RSRA will be the starting point for the morning activities. At 7 a.m., weather permitting, join Erin Riopelle for a kayak tour of the shipwreck of the Portland that went aground just off the shore in 1877. All necessary equipment provided. Contact her at or at 989-255-7796 for details and reservations.

Historical tours of the site of the Village of Bell at the Besser Natural Area take place at 9 a.m. with Lynn Morrison and 10 a.m. with Rod Olsen. The tour features the largest stand of virgin pine in the state of Michigan, the remnants of the village that was the home of lumber barons and early fishing industry, and the shipwreck of the Portland. This leisurely hike over easy-to-navigate dirt pathway will take approximately 1 ½ hours.

Activities start off from Rockport Harbor with a Bike Safari with Bob Grochowski to the sinkholes departing at 11:15 a.m. Bring your own bike. Mountain bikes, helmets and water are recommended for this tour over sometimes challenging terrain.

A fossil hunting expedition with Paleo Joe begins at 1 p.m. He'll start with a brief paleontological description of the area and what Alpena was like 360 million years ago when the area was a warm tropical sea. Learn how the earth and the plate tectonics as well as the Ice ages shaped the area of Northeastern Michigan. This will be followed with a brisk hike around the former Rockport quarry stopping along the way to look at fossils and formations that are full of fossils. Tour is over rocky, uneven terrain and will take 2-3 hours.

You are welcome to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at the community park overlooking the beautiful Rockport Harbor.

Our Next Meeting Date Has Changed
Our next meeting will be held on Wednesday, September 17, at 7 p.m. at the Alpena Township Hall, 4385 US 23 N, AlpenaDetails to follow next week.
Rockport State Recreation Area celebrates the Bat Hibernaculum Project and Rockport Recreation Day - 
June 27 & 28, 2014

Friday, June 27, 7:00 p.m.
"The Bats of Michigan"
Alpena Community College, Natural Resources Building, 
Room 101, 666 Johnson Street, Alpena
As a public lead-up to this year’s Rockport celebration, the Friends of Rockport will be hosting a special guest speaker, Michigan bat expert Dr. Allen Kurta of Eastern Michigan University. Dr. Kurta’s presentation will describe, in a non-technical fashion, the unique features of these flying mammals and where they are found in our state.

Rockport Recreation Day - Saturday, June 28

8:30 - 10:00 a.m. Birding at Besser Natural Area
Learn how to identify birds using field guides and other resources. Take a walk through Besser Natural Area and test your skills. Bring your own binoculars and field guides if you have them.

10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. at Rockport Harbor
There will be a variety of Rockport related displays featured in the Big Tent. 
Food and refreshments by Cookin’ For A Cause.

11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. The Bat Hibernaculum Project: Introductions and project overview. Live Bat Presentation with Rob Mies of the Organization for Bat Conservation.

1:00 p.m. - Mountain Bike Safari to the Sinkholes - Provide your own mountain bike. A helmet and bottle of water is suggested. Starting at the parking lot near the Big Tent, bikers will head out past the Bat Hibernaculum to Overburden Lookout, then loop back out through the Quarry and out to the Sinkholes. Plan on about 1 1/2 hours.

10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Fishing - Learn all you need to know about fishing and try your luck. Poles and bait provided.

Geocaching - Check in at the Big Tent. Learn how to use GPS to find the treasures hidden at Rockport. 

Kayaking - Whether you’re new to kayaking or just want to venture out into Rockport Harbor, kayaks, paddles, PFDs and any instructions you need will be provided to get you out on the water.

A Recreation Passport is required for park entrance. Self registration is available at Rockport Harbor. For details call Harrisville State Park at 989-724-5126.
Shoe Years Day

Our Shoe Years Day Event went very well as far as turnout and visitors enjoying the Besser Natural Area trails. According to Ashley Osterland, our DNR event coordinator, we had about 85 visitors. We lent out most of the snowshoes that we had borrowed from the Alpena Public Schools. 


The major problem we ran into was parking. The current parking lot at the end of a long, one lane road accommodates 8-10 cars maximum. Many parked along East Grand Lake Road on the curve. There were complaints from residents at the end of Bell Bay Road of people parking and limiting the access to their driveways. Lynn Morrison, our vice president and a resident of Bell Bay, reports that the parking issue has been a problem this winter with more people using BNA. We are hoping to seek solutions to these problems this spring.


A big thank you to our volunteers Ken and Norma Crouch, State Representative Peter and Karen Pettallia, and Tim Dodge that helped clear and mark trails prior to the event and/or assisted on Shoe Year's Day along with board members Melinda Ritter, Lynn Morrison and myself. We couldn't consider sponsoring such an event without the help of our volunteers.

Shoe Years Day Event January 4th

A Shoe Years Day event will take place at Rockport State Recreation Area's Besser Natural Area on Saturday, January 4, 2014 from 10 a.m. until noon. Start off your New Year by snowshoeing or cross country skiing on the beautiful trails at Besser Natural Area. Bring your snowshoes or bring your skis and join us for some fun and exercise in Michigan's winter wonderland! Snowshoes will be available to borrow if you don't have your own. Light weight winter type hiking boots give you good ankle support and fit best in the bindings.

There will be donuts, cider and hot chocolate available to warm you up before you hit the trail to get in shape. Come enjoy the great outdoors with the Friends of Rockport/Besser Natural Area! Recreation Passports are required for all vehicles entering this event. While it's best to get your Passport when you renew your plates at the Secretary of State, you can also purchase one for $11 at the self-register pipe at Rockport Harbor.

For more information email or call Ashley at 231-944-0062.


Thanks to Our Volunteers!

The past few weeks were crazy busy for the Friends of Rockport! On September 28th we celebrated Michigan Trails Week with guided tours by bike and foot to the sinkholes with Bob and Carol Grochowski. I have to thank those guests on our hike, especially the Voltz family, that helped clean up a mess that was left behind at the big sinkhole. What a great example to the kids that were along on our hike!

There was an informational hike to view and learn about our Bat Hibernaculum Project with Bill Grigg.  As always, Bill impressed everyone with his knowledge of bats - the true facts and myths.

Erin Riopelle of Adventureland Sports took a brave and adventurous group of kayakers out to the shipwreck of the Portland off Besser Natural Area in some increasingly blustery weather. On October 5, Melinda Ritter, Rod Olsen and Karen Tetzlaff shared their knowledge of Rockport SRA with visitors to the Fall Harvest/Fossil Fest at Besser Museum. Rod brought some of his favorite fossils to show off the diversity that can be found there.

On October 7, the Association of Lifelong Learners braved rainy weather to go on a historical tour of Bell Village at Besser Natural Area with Lynn Morrison. I took the opportunity to join this tour. I had little idea of what the BNA was before it became a designated natural area. It was amazing to hear about everything that was there! I was so impressed, I've asked Lynn to do this tour on our Recreation Day next June.

The Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival took place at the Aplex October 11-13. We partnered with the Friends of Thompson's Harbor to have a display there. Colleen Higgins, Melinda Ritter, Bill Grigg, Karen Schulte, Karen Tetzlaff and I spent time telling visitors about all the great things to see and do at our parks.

Here's a BIG THANK YOU to all our volunteers for taking the time to let others know just how special RSRA is!!!

Michigan Trails Week Celebration

Have you ever kayaked over a shipwreck or seen the sinkholes at Rockport?  Here's your opportunity! The Friends of Rockport/Besser Natural Area will be celebrating Michigan Trails Week on with a hike/bike/kayak event on Saturday, Sept. 28 weather permitting. A Recreation Passport will not be required due to it's being National Public Lands Day.

At 9 am there will be a short hike to the new Bat Hibernaculum including a narrative overview of that project.  At 10 am - a Hike/Bike Tour to the Sinkholes.  It's approximately 2.5 miles to the sinkholes on sometimes rough and un-level terrain.  You should bring water. Hikers will meet in the community park/picnic area. Bikers will meet in the boat launch area. Bikers will need to bring their own "mountain-type" bike.  A helmet is recommended.  If you'd like, bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at the community park afterwards.

Kayak tours of the shipwreck Portland off Besser Natural Area will be conducted by Adventureland Sports for a $10 fee.  Reservations  required.  Kayak rentals available or bring your own.  Contact Erin for details at 989-255-7796. For more information contact Harrisville State Park at 989-724-5126, visit or email

Recreation Passes

Self registration for Recreation Passports is now available at Rockport! A Self Registration pipe was installed at the park and we also have a new bulletin board on site that explains how self-registration works. Visitors who do not have vehicles registered in the state of Michigan can purchase what they need through the self-registration pipe. Residents may also use the pipe or obtain Passports from the Secretary of State office where you can also obtain the Passport Perk discounts. If anyone asks it’s The pipe is located on the north side of the main parking lot at the harbor and it’s green.

Rockport Recreation Day

We had 128 guests for the day. For the most part everyone was out and about taking part in all the activities we had planned. A good time was had by all! We heard many comments about what people were going to do the next time they came back. Eric wasn't sure but thought the DNR had sold at least 10 Recreation Passports that day.

A BIG THANKS to our volunteers Bill Grigg (birding), Bob Grochowski (bike safari), Marc Kemp (geocaching), Julie and Mike Kline, Lynn Morrison, Jean Nardi (geocaching), Patrick Pokorski, Erin Riopelle (kayaking), Melinda Ritter, Karen and Chuck Tetzlaff that helped out that day or at the work bee to help us get ready.  Thanks to those that brought in displays or sponsored activities:  Adventureland Sports, Americore/ Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, Besser Museum, Cookin' for a Cause, Friends of Rockport, Hall's Serv-All, Michigan Karst Society, Miller Office Machines, Model Printing , NOAA Maritime Heritage Center, Thunder Bay Scuba, US Coast Guard, US Fish and Wildlife and myself.  The DNR brought in a big crew that was the muscle behind this event as well as providing program support.  Thanks to our park supervisor, Eric Ostrander, and his crew.  As you can see, it takes a lot of participation to put on a successful event. 


We look forward to seeing even more guests next year!

Dark Skies Project

What is a Dark Sky Park? “It’s a park or other protected public land possessing exceptional starry skies and natural nocturnal habitat where light pollution is mitigated and natural darkness is valuable as an important educational, cultural, scientific and natural resource.”

This past week Jon Butler and Rod Olsen were out at Rockport into the wee hours of the morning taking the light readings necessary for us to apply for Michigan and International Dark Skies status.

Jon reports “It was a perfect night to make an evaluation of the dark skies at Rockport. I used the I phone 5 app recommended by the IDA to do the evaluation and made 15 readings.

The preliminary data shows we fall in the first tier Gold as recognized by the IDA SQM average score of 22.41. A score of 21.75 or above is required for the Gold tier.” Headlands in Emmet County, the only other IDA recognized Dark Skies Park in Michigan is in the second tier – Silver."  Headlands is one of only 10 Dark Skies Parks in the world. Obtaining this status could be a very big deal for Rockport with possible national and international recognition!!! Jon thinks they should build an observatory out there :)

S'mores and Meteor Showers Anyone?

We are currently working on an event with the DNR and Besser Museum to coincide with the Perseid Meteor Shower August 10-August 13. Rockport should be the perfect place to view this spectacular display. Jon Butler reports that “during peak you may see 50-100 meteors per hour in dark skies. Best mornings are August 11, 12, 13. Best times are in the hours after midnight before dawn.

Perseids  radiate from the constellation Perseus (E NE part of the sky) but meteors may appear in all parts of the sky during this shower. The Perseids are typically bright and fast. They often leave a trail in the sky. If the weather cooperates it should be good viewing as the light of the moon will not interfere.”




Bat Project

In brief - Gate construction is underway.  A successful work bee removed enough of the debris from a tunnel opening to give any bats hibernating there an easier way out.  Our Friends group is working on a grant application to help offset some of the costs for the project.




Bat Hibernacula Assessment


On February 23 representatives of the MDNR, Americorps, NE MI Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, 4H Youth Programs, Alpena High School, and Friends of Rockport/BNA joined researcher Dr. Allen Kurta of Eastern Michigan University and Michigan DNR Wildlife Biologist Bill Scullon to assess the tunnels at Rockport to see what could be done to enhance the habitat for the hibernating bats. Specially designed steel gate structures will be made to protect the bats habitat by safely excluding the public from accessing the tunnels while allowing the bats free access in and out of the tunnels. GLSI will be coordinating with students from the industrial arts program at AHS and the 4-H Welding Club to manufacture the gates. Adding additional gravel to further insulate the tunnels is also planned. Construction work on the tunnels will commence in the spring after the bats have moved out.


The goal of the project is to provide the protective gating and interpretive kiosks depicting the ecological importance of bats, their habitat and the history of the tunnels at Rockport.

So far, the MDNR Wildlife Division and U.S. Fish and Wildlife are contributing funding for this project.  Our Friends group is working on a grant proposal to provide additional funding. 


Election Results

The elections held at the February meeting determined that there would be no changes to the board.  Current officers are Carol Dodge Grochowski – President, Lynn Morrison – Vice President, Melinda Ritter – Secretary, Carol Clute – Treasurer, and Patrick Pokorski – Member-At-Large.  Eric Ostrander, the DNR P&R Supervisor continues as Ex-Officio.

Membership Dues Reduced for 2013

The new rates will be $10 for an individual membership and $15 for a family membership.  If you’ve already paid dues for 2013 at the previous rates, you have the options of rolling the difference over toward next year’s dues or to have it designated as a donation.

Since we’ve now covered our cost of filing for our 501(c)(3) we can start to build up funds to put towards matching grants and projects. Membership is a requirement for voting.  Form may be printed and mailed or just bring it to the next meeting.  If these options don’t work for you, contact Carol Clute at 989-727-2405 and she will help you get set up with a membership and handle any revisions for those that have already paid. 

The Bat Project

At our last meeting, Heather Rawlings from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was in attendance to introduce a joint project with the MDNR to protect the bats out at Rockport and ask for our support.  Jennifer Kleitch (MDNR Wildlife, Atlanta) initiated the project.

Two conveyor tunnels have become home to and a hibernation site for three species of bats.  They’re the big and little brown bats, and the tri-colored bat.  The third being less common in the state, especially in the lower peninsula. Bats are valuable as pollinators and a single little brown bat will eat several thousand insects in a single night.

Bat populations have been decreasing because of a fungal infection known as white-nose syndrome.  Bats at Rockport show no signs of this disease so it is important to protect them.  The plan is to optimize the tunnels by grating the entrances to allow the bats in and keep people out and also to increase the amount of gravel covering the tunnels to better insulate them in the winter.

They are also seeking to add an educational component to the project by getting help from the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative to include participation of local high school students.  We have pledged our support.

A group of high school welding students from Alpena will be taking on the task of constructing grates for the tunnels.  The group is part of the only 4-H welding group in the state.  Another plan is to construct bat housing for summer homes for the bats.  Apparently they only use the tunnels for hibernation.  This will make a good project for the shop class.
Dedication of Rockport State Park

Great lakes Lighthouse Festival. Friends Groups for Newagon, Rockport and Thompson's Harbor shared a booth at the lighthouse festival which was held at the APLEX Event Center.  This gave us the opportunity to promote the parks to people from around the state and beyond.