What would traveling be like without the rest areas?

These little iconic roadside bathrooms are a viable necessity, yet we fail to give ‘em the kudos they deserve. How many times have you been traveling in Michigan - either going to or coming back from one end of the state to the other – and desperately needed a bathroom? C’mon, you know this has happened to you.

You’re squirmin’ in your seat and then FINALLY you see a sign that says “rest area, 1 mile ahead”. A sigh of relief precedes another kind of relief you’ll soon be experiencing.

Without these little rest areas, there would be cars and trucks lining the sides of the highways, with drivers and families doing their business in the woods or behind a bush. But these places are more than just a bathroom stop - they also have tables where you can have your own picnic. They actually little roadside parks.

Yes, the rest stop. A traveler’s best friend.

Throughout the entire state of Michigan there are rest stops a-plenty along the major highways and interstates. But in all your inner state travels, with all the rest stops you made, did you ever stop and wonder “where was Michigan’s FIRST rest area?” Probably not.

Well, now you will know.

In 1918, Michigan’s first roadside park was conceived as a 320-acre forest preserve in Iron County. In 1919, the area was turned into a roadside park, complete with picnic tables for travelers and tourists. Not only did this become Michigan’s first rest stop, but many historians feel it was the first in America. As I already mentioned, if it weren’t for these rest areas, travelers would have to stop and go in the woods…and that’s what really did happen before 1919.

Michigan’s first rest stop still exists and is called Larson Park, along US-2 in the Upper Peninsula between Crystal Falls and Iron River. It was named after the man who came up with the concept, Herbert Larson, a former student at the University of Michigan. While vacationing in Wisconsin, he and a group of friends were constantly being told they could not have a picnic. No matter where they tried, someone was there to stop them. Discouraged, and more than a little ticked off, Herbert decided he wasn’t gonna let that happen in the beloved Upper Peninsula, where no one was bothered by conservation people, rangers, or any other authority figures…..and thus was born the first roadside park / rest area.

First in Michigan, probably the first in America. See the photos below!

(See a gallery of 150 old Michigan 'Roadside Stops' HERE.)

 

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