Michigan is simultaneously known for its cities, supported by heavy industry, and its pristine wilderness, home to more than 11,000 lakes. The clang and clamor of Metro Detroit's crowded thoroughfares and busy factories stand in vivid counterpoint to the tranquility found in virtually every corner of the state.
Nearly 52 percent of Michigan is forestland; its Department of Natural Resources manages the largest dedicated state forest system in the nation. More than 90 native species of trees, more than in all of Europe, are found here. The forest products industry and recreational users contribute $12 billion and 200,000 associated jobs annually to the state's economy.
Hunting is a major component of Michigan's economy. It ranks first in the nation in licensed hunters (over one million) who contribute $2 billion annually to its economy. Over three-quarters of a million hunters participate in white-tailed deer season alone. Many K-12 school districts in rural areas of the state cancel school on the opening day of rifle season, because of both safety and attendance concerns.
Bounded by four of the five Great Lakes, plus Lake Saint Clair, Michigan has the longest freshwater shoreline in the world, and the second longest total shoreline in the United States, after Alaska (excluding island shorelines), and in 2005 had more registered recreational boats than any state except California and Florida. A person in Michigan is never more than 85 miles from open Great Lakes water and is never more than 6 miles from a natural water source. The state has 38 deep water ports and six border crossings with Ontario, Canada. Additionally, the busiest lock system in the world is the Soo Lock, based in Sault Ste. Marie, where the St. Marys River links Lake Superior and Lake Huron. The Detroit-Windsor crossing is the busiest border crossing between the US and Canada.
Michigan is the only bi-peninsular state. The Lower Peninsula of Michigan, to which the name Michigan was originally applied, is sometimes dubbed "the mitten," owing to its shape. The Upper Peninsula is separated from the Lower Peninsula by the Straits of Mackinac, a five-mile channel that joins Lake Huron to Lake Michigan. The Upper Peninsula is economically important for tourism and its natural resources. Originally thought to be wasteland, the Upper Peninsula was discovered to be a rich and important source of lumber, iron, and copper, soon to become the state's most sought-after natural resources.
Though both Michigan's history and its population's daily life is influenced primarily by its natural environment, it has made two important contributions to the nation and the world.
- Michigan was home to a strong anti-slavery movement dating from the early 1830s. An important stop on the Underground Railroad assisting escaped slaves on their way to Canada, one of most well-known women activists in US history, Sojourner Truth, maintained a haven along the route in Battle Creek. The Republican Party was formed in 1854, in Michigan, in direct opposition to the expansion of slavery. The first Republican–dominated legislature passed laws in 1855 prohibiting aiding in the capture of escaped slaves in the state. Michigan made a significant contribution to the Union in the American Civil War, sending over forty regiments of volunteers to the Federal armies.
- Michigan's economy underwent a massive change at the turn of the 20th century. The birth of the automotive industry, with Henry Ford's first plant in the Highland Park neighborhood of Detroit, marked the beginning of a new era in transportation. It was a development that not only transformed Detroit and Michigan, but permanently altered the socio-economic climate of the United States and much of the world.