McCourtie Park: A Hidden Gem In Southern Michigan
If you’re looking for a quick afternoon getaway, to enjoy a nice spring day, just point the car east and drive less than an hour to McCourtie Park. Ron Rademacher, author of five books on Michigan’s out-of-the-way places, talked about this little gem recently on the 95.3 WBCK Morning Show with Tim Collins.
Fans of Michigan International Speedway are familiar with the area known as the “Irish Hills”, south of Jackson in southern Michigan. U.S. 12, the Great Sauk Trail, goes right through the hills. Just east of Somerset Center, you might see a small sign announcing McCourtie Park.
The park features a meandering stream, highlighted by several unique works of art scattered along a paved path. The stream can be crossed on any one of 17 bridges. Ron says each bridge is of a different design. “One looks like a log bridge, another like a suspension bridge, and another like a thatch roofed bridge. All are very different and all are the work of one artist, and all are constructed of concrete.”
McCourtie Park is a favorite spot for bird watchers as well. On top of tall poles, are two of the largest Purple Martin bird houses, anywhere in the Midwest. Beautifully constructed with sculptured roofs, each is said to house more than 100 Purple Martins.
Ron says there is more to discover in this park, and some of it is underground. “If you bear to the left, as you enter the park on the paved path, you go up a small grassy hill. There is an historic marker there and there are two tall tree trunks with broken branches that are an unnatural white color. The color is due to the fact, that these two trees are also constructed of concrete, and are actually chimneys, that served an underground ratskeller that once operated here. If you go back to the paved path, and walk along you will come to the fronting, of that grassy hill. Installed in the face of the hill are appear to be old garage doors.” Ron says that the last time he was there, he could peer inside through one or two windows, and see the ratskeller is still there. It features a beautiful mahogany bar, fixtures, and a floor to ceiling fieldstone fireplace.
There are other examples of this kind of work in the area. A few miles east is St. Joseph’s Church. Outside the church the Stations of the Cross are depicted in this same medium. Then there are the gazebo and fountains at Slayton Arboretum at Hillsdale College.
McCourtie Park is in Somerset Township on U.S. 12 just west of the junction with U.S. 127. The parking lot is directly adjacent to the