Sightseeing in Northern Michigan: Project Nature

In the Pigeon River Valley, north of Gaylord, lies the ruins of an idea that didn’t last long. It was called Project Nature.

Nature has reclaimed most of what’s left, but the stories remain.

We take you there for today’s Sightseeing in Northern Michigan.

“What happened in the late 80s, there was a developer named Curt Gladwin that wanted to build a family attraction and, my best analogy would be is, it’s like a Jurassic Park kind of thing. So you would come into the property, hop into a trolley, and drive around and look at all the animals. Giraffes, camels, elk, deer, ostrich.”

Your adventure into Project Nature would start here.

“You would park your car there in the lot and you could walk down to the depot and get on the tram, or you could pick the tram up right here by the ticket booth.”

Your first stop: the wilderness cabin.

“And that was originally a gift shop. It also had a theater.”

Surrounded by beautiful ponds, you would hop back on the tram then shuttled to these wide open fields where the animals once roamed.

“The whole intent was you could come into a natural setting of what these animals lived like.”

One very tall, odd looking building would catch your eye.

“The building for the giraffes. There was one giraffe on the property that I’m aware of, and it’s called the Giraffe Hilton. So in that building was a giraffe and it had 3-4 acres to roam around in.”

People could see plays in the Old Howling Dog Saloon and even visit the owner at the river cabin where he lived.

“And it’s got this big, huge stone fireplace in it, and it’s a beautiful building.”

The experience wasn’t over. They’d take you up the hill to a building that must have been, and still is, impressive to look at.

“Windows is a big pavilion and there was a big spiral stairway with windows at the top, and you could get hot dogs, and hamburgers, and ice cream and it’d give you the ability with all the windows up there to look out over the Pigeon River Valley. There was also a pavilion you could walk out and look out over a big field and watch the animals.”

Sadly, Project Nature didn’t even last a year. They had to close the doors after just eight months.

“It just didn’t make it, so it’s unfortunate.”

About 12 years ago, Treetops Resort bought the property. They have maintained the buildings that could be saved and use the space for special events.

“Currently, Treetops is using it for things like its farm to fork dinners, private parties, weddings, ski-able feasts, sleigh rides.”

Project Nature: a very small piece of Northern Michigan history that was before it’s time, but still may have a future.

“We’ve started to upgrade the buildings again, just because it’s such a unique area.”

Categories: Northern Michigan In Focus