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Celebrating 350 Years of Rich Maritime History

Sault Ste. Marie is the oldest city in Michigan—and one of the oldest in the United States.

Nestled at the tip of Michigan's Upper Peninsula by the St. Marys River and the Canadian border, Sault Ste. Marie is rich in maritime history and home to the legendary Soo Locks, attracting nearly one million visitors each year.

This year marks the city's 350th anniversary.

Fred Huffman, Group Tour Coordinator for the Upper Peninsula Travel & Recreation Association, has worked with thousands of individual travelers and tour groups. Here, he shares a bit of what the area offers for groups and what's in store to commemorate the 350th anniversary.

The Soo Locks

The Soo Locks are an engineering marvel: The group of locks has provided safe passage and a vital shipping connection within the Great Lakes for nearly 160 years.

Freighters, barges, tugboats and more traverse the 21-foot drop between Lake Superior and Lake Huron every day. Nearly 7,000 vessels pass through annually—hauling 86 million tons of cargo.

Groups can watch the locks in motion from observation platforms in Soo Locks Park, or journey through the locks on boat tours.

"I really enjoy the Soo Locks Dinner Cruise, which takes you through the American and Canadian Lock systems and combines a great dinner with a romantic sunset cruise on one of the greatest industrial waterways in the world," Huffman said.

Whitefish Point and Tahquamenon Falls

Huffman notes many groups take a day trip out of Sault Ste. Marie and voyage to Whitefish Point in Paradise, Michigan, to tour the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.

The museum explores historic shipwrecks in eastern Lake Superior—including that of the Edmund Fitzgerald, one of the most mysterious shipwrecks in Great Lakes history.

The ship was lost with her entire crew of 29 men on November 10, 1975. At the request of family members, the 200-pound bronze bell was recovered and is now on display at the museum.

Tahquamenon Falls—the second largest waterfall east of the Mississippi River—isn't far from Whitefish Point.

Agawa Canyon Train Tour

A popular fall activity for groups is the Agawa Canyon Train Tour, a one-day wilderness excursion through the forests of the Canadian Shield. The train departs from Sault Ste. Marie's twin city: Sault Ste. Marie,  Ontario, Canada. Many groups stay in Michigan, cross the international bridge for the train tour, then return to their lodging in Michigan for the night.

Museum Ship Valley Camp

Housed on a retired iron ore freighter, the Museum Ship Valley Camp offers groups a deck tour—as well as an adventure through a 20,000-square-foot museum inside her cargo holds. In addition to over 100 exhibits, the museum displays four 1,200-gallon aquariums stocked with various species of fish from the Great Lakes region.

Tower of History

Standing 210 feet above Sault Ste. Marie and the Soo Locks, the Tower of History offers panoramic views of up to 1,200 square miles. The museum shares the story of the early missionaries who built the tower, as well as local and Native American history.

350th Anniversary Events

Sault Ste. Marie rang in the new year with a huge celebration—and the events continue all year long. July, in particular, is packed with huge bashes.

The 350th Anniversary Independence Day Parade and Fireworks on the Fourth of July features an annual parade and then fireworks on the waterfront at dusk.

Downtown Sault Ste. Marie will be brimming with food, military appreciation, cultural festivities and more, July 21 – 27, 2018.

History comes alive July 28 and 29, 2018, for Rendezvous in the Soo. The grounds of City Hall and the historic homes on Water Street will be teeming with local re-enactors, blacksmiths, musicians, visiting historical entertainers and more who will set up camps and displays, and provide presentations on military and caviling life during the period from 1668 – 1840.

Written by Cassie Westrate, staff writer for Groups Today.

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