5 fun things to do with your kids in Mid-Michigan

Swiss Cottage Designs
Swiss Cottage Designs
Disclaimer: The Henry Ford provided me with tickets to the museum and the factory tour. Everything else was on our own dime.

Today we’re going to talk about one of the Butterscotch Sundae family’s favorite vacation destinations: Mid-Michigan.

OK, so Michigan might not be the first location that springs to mind when you think Summer Vacation. But I spent every summer of my first 15 years there and at least a week of the last 15 summers there,[ref]What about the five years in the middle? I was working at jobs that didn’t come with a summer vacation. Otherwise, I’d have been there![/ref] and you can go ahead and trust me when I tell you this: Michigan is a top-notch place to spend your summer vacation.

(A lot of Michiganders would agree with me, I think, although they’d probably tell you to go Up North when you visit. That’s the lovely, lake-filled, adventuring part of the state. It’s also the part I’ve spent the least amount of time in, so I’ll leave it to someone else to tell you what you ought to do up there.)

You probably won’t be able to get a reservation for my favorite Mid-Michigan “resort” — my dad’s house, home of the Greatest Backyard in the History of Backyards — but you can visit some of our “Middle of the Mitten” favorites.

The Henry Ford

The Henry Ford

As you may have surmised, The Henry Ford museum is heavy on transportation-related displays. The museum explores how the automobile has shaped America, from the way we work to the way we eat to the way we sleep. The museum also has a lot of items from American history, such as George Washington’s camp bed, George Washington Carver’s microscope and — of special interest for aficionados of the macabre — both the chair in which Abraham Lincoln was sitting and the car in which John F. Kennedy was riding when they were assassinated.

Other points of interest at the Henry Ford:

  • The Weinermobile (and a foam hotdog bun where you can pretend to be a hotdog).
  • An impressive collection of silver and pewter.
  • Ginormous trains, some of which you can climb on.
  • Buckminster Fuller’s “house of the future,” the Dymaxion House.

    The Henry Ford Museum
    Cost: $18 for adults, $13.50 for kids and $16 for seniors.
    Address: 20900 Oakwood Boulevard, Dearborn, MI

    The Rouge Factory
    The roof of Dearborn Truck Plant is covered with a plant called sedum. The "green roof" lowers temperatures inside the plant by as much as 10 degrees and absorbs up to 4 millions gallons of rainwater.
    The “green roof” on the Dearborn Truck Plant lowers temperatures inside the plant by as much as 10 degrees, and the sedum absorbs up to 4 millions gallons of rainwater.

    Henry Ford wanted the Rouge to be an “ore-to-assembly” complex that was entirely self-sufficient. That didn’t quite come to fruition, but it’s still an impressive factory. The Rouge first produced farm tractors; now it’s where they make Ford F-150s.

    The first part of the tour includes a couple of short movies about the history of the plant and the company. I expected to see a lot of Henry Ford hero worship, but they didn’t gloss over the less savory aspects of Ford and his company. It was a pretty balanced presentation.

    After the movies, visitors can wander around on walkways suspended above the factory floor. While it felt a little weird watching people work, it was really cool to see how huge and intricate the assembly line actually is.

    The Ford Rouge Factory Tour
    Cost: $15 for adults, $14 for seniors and $11 for kids
    Address: 20900 Oakwood Boulevard, Dearborn, MI

    Great Lakes Loons

    Dow Diamond in Midland, Michigan

    Our family loves to go to baseball games. We’ve never gone to a major-league game, though, because they’re too expensive. The minor leagues are where it’s at.

    I’ve been to a number of minor league baseball games, and Dow Diamond is definitely the fanciest minor league park I’ve seen. It’s the home of the Great Lakes Loons, and it features a playground, a lovely lawn seating area and pretty good food at decent prices. And it was $1 hotdog night and there were fireworks and Rockford caught a foul ball when we were there! That’s tough to beat.

    The Great Lakes Loons
    Cost: $6.50 for lawn seats; $9.50 for reserved seating
    Address: 825 East Main Street, Midland, MI

    Junction Valley Railroad

    Junction Valley Railroad in Bridgeport MI

    Junction Valley Railroad is the largest quarter-size railroad in the world, featuring 75 different types of cars and more than 865 feet of trestle and bridges. We took the kids there a few years ago, when Pete was 4 and Poppy was 6. They were both thrilled to ride the little train, which lets visitors off at a small playground where the kids can run off some steam before riding back to the station. There’s also a nice hobby shop at Junction Valley, where grandfathers may, hypothetically, be tempted to buy a model train for their grandchildren.

    Junction Valley Railroad
    Cost: $7 for adults, $6 for kids and $6.75 for seniors.
    Address: 7065 Dixie Highway, Bridgeport, MI

    Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square

    Peacock at the Saginaw Children's Zoo

    We went to the Saginaw Children’s Zoo a lot when I was a kid, and it was the site of one of the greatest self-inflicted terrors of my young life. The reptile house was in a boat in the middle of a little pond, and you had to cross a bridge to get to it. I was deathly afraid of snakes, but for some reason I forced myself across that bridge and into the snake boat every time we went. Then I would scamper back across to the safety of the mainland, where I’d reward my bravery with a visit to the prairie dogs.

    (I’m sure you’re not surprised to learn that I was an odd kid.)

    The snake boat is no longer there, but the prairie dogs are, and they’re just as cute as they were back then. The zoo also still has a great carousel, a petting zoo and a bunch of free-range peacocks that love to have their pictures taken.

    Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square
    Cost: $5 from March 29 through April 30; $7 from May 1 through October 11.
    Address: 1730 S Washington Ave, Saginaw, MI

  • In which I kick off a big reading project with Teddy Roosevelt

    "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt"It took me about 245 years and it put me behind schedule on my Read 50 Books in 2014 goal, but I finally finished “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris. Before reading the book, what I knew about Roosevelt was basically caricature — the big teeth, the cowboy stuff, etc. Now that I know a little more about him, I get the feeling that the caricatures aren’t that far from the truth. He seems like a force of nature more than an actual human person.

    I realized as I read the book that my knowledge of U.S. history is superficial at best. I’d like to change that, so I’m going to try to read at least one biography of each president. I’m not going to put a time limit on this one. Even if I manage to read one every month, it’ll take nearly four years. And we’ll have a whole new president by then! It’s a never-ending project!

    I’m planning to go in chronological order; here are the first few I’ll be looking for:

    George Washington

  • “His Excellency: George Washington,” Joseph Ellis
  • “Washington: A Life,” Ron Chernow
  • “1776,” David McCullough

    John Adams

  • “John Adams: A Life,” John Ferling
  • “John Adams,” David McCullough

    Thomas Jefferson

  • “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power,” Jon Meacham
  • “American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson,” Joseph Ellis
  • You can see the list of presidential biographies I’m considering right here. Please let me know if I’m missing, say, your favorite Taft tome! (Favorite Taft tomes seem to be in short supply.)