John Jackson was a Copper Country native, born in the booming mining town of Mohawk in 1901. After obtaining degrees in both Mining and Civil engineering at the Michigan College of Mines, Mr. Jackson went into the employ of unsurprisingly the Mohawk Mining Company. After the mine’s closure at the dawn of the Great Depression John acquired the position of Civil Engineer for the WPA in Keweenaw and Baraga Counties, and as such was involved with some of the region’s most prolific public projects including Brockway Mountain Drive and the scenic Superior fronting Lake Shore Drive connecting Copper Harbor to Eagle Harbor (current day M26). After the war Mr. Jackson returned to the Copper Country, this time offering his civil engineering services to the Keweenaw Country road commission. In the mid 1960s he became County Engineer, during which time he partially responsible for the construction of yet another scenic drive – “South Shore Drive”. Known today as the Gay-Lac La Belle Road, this shoreline hugging roadway opened up what had previously been nothing but empty wilderness along the Keweenaw’s south-eastern flank. In addition to the road itself, several roadside parks were also established along the route to help draw tourists into the region. One of those parks was named in Mr. Jackson’s honor, a small roadside turn-off along the Little Gratiot River known as Jackson Riverside Park.
As the new South Shore Road began its long journey southward from Lac La Belle its first obstacle was the wide waters of the Little Gatiot River. The river gets its start miles to the south as the natural outlet of the peninsula’s third largest inland lake – Gratiot Lake. It meanders its way through the marshy landscape of the peninsula’s eastern flank before emptying into the clear waters of Lac La Belle at the base of Mount Bohemia. The river was known for its abundant Smelt runs, and had already been popular among locals during the yearly spring thaw. When it came time to find great public pullouts along the new scenic roadway the spot was an easy pick.
The roadside park that resulted was set atop a shore bluff overlooking a wide gentle curve in the river. Trees were cut to provide vistas out over the river and the surrounding marshland, and several picnic spots were laid out on the pine-needle-carpeted overlook. Far from the hustle and bustle of the peninsula’s mining-centric spine, it was a serene place for anyone looking to take a trip to get away from it all. Yet while nice, the park’s claim to fame and its interest to explorers such as me is not in such an idyllic picnic spot. Instead its the man-made attraction that accompanies this natural wonder that has always gained my interest.
Unfortunately that item of interest is not particularly apparent to the normal passerby. The only clue to its existence is this short stone wall bordering the road as it crosses the river, such an insignificant detail that it hardly perks the interest of the most observant of tourists. Yet something impressive awaits discovery just behind these modern guardrails for those willing to take a moment to explore the world around them just a bit. All it takes is a stop on the side of the road and a short hop over the guardrail…
There you will find this wonderful little vista overlooking both the rushing waters of the river as well as the beautifully crafted stone wall that joins it. The wall forms the outer facade of a large earth-filled culvert which carries the South Shore road atop the river. The calico patterned stones provide a very “English countryside” feel, though it’s a bit out of touch with the standard sandstone accented culverts found elsewhere across the peninsula.
Heading across to the other side of the road we find the stone culvert joined by a quant little grassy knoll looking out across the river. Its an incredibly idyllic setting, one that is largely missed by most copper country visitors as they head on down the South Shore Road. But its worth a stop, as the grassy overlook and the gentle flow of water at its feet provides for a soothing rest stop for weary travelers exploring the Keweenaw. Its one I wholeheartedly recommend, a forgotten slice of the Copper Country hidden away where most don’t even wander.