Fishtown is one of the few remaining, unmodernized, active commercial fishing communities on the Great Lakes.
Fishtown in Leland is a distinctive place because it was created as a working port. The facilities were constructed for practical purposes, and that’s one reason why Fishtown’s authentic feel compels visitors and locals alike to recognize and appreciate its unique sense of place.
An abundance of activities can be found in Fishtown’s ¼ square mile of space, and these activities find synergy with neighboring activities at Leland’s marina and park, downtown shops and restaurants, Lake Michigan beach, and on the Leland River that connects the “Big Lake” to Lake Leelanau.
Fishtown is a unique historical attraction at the mouth of the Leland River in Leelanau County. Fishtown is one of the few remaining, unmodernized, active commercial fishing communities on the Great Lakes. It is home to weathered fishing shanties, smokehouses, overhanging docks, small shops, historic fishing tugs and charters. A true working waterfront, Fishtown is one of the only places that the public can still see and feel an authentic connection to Great Lakes maritime culture. At one time, many waterfronts along the Great Lakes had commercial fishing villages, but nearly all of them are gone, either by neglect or because they have been developed for another purpose. Fishtown in Leland exists because the community and thousands of visitors feel a special connection to the rare historical site. Thanks also go to the Carlson family, a fifth-generation commercial fishing family, and other fishing families, that maintained Fishtown for decades.
The current steward and caretaker of Fishtown is the Fishtown Preservation Society (FPS), a private nonprofit organization formed in 2001 by dedicated community volunteers to promote and preserve the fishing heritage of Fishtown. In 2004, the owners of a large portion of the Fishtown property, the Carlson family, proposed selling their property on the north side of the river. The family and the community were concerned that the property might appeal to developers who would not value the site’s historical significance and sense of place. The FPS became the vehicle for the community to acquire Fishtown. In 2007, FPS took over ownership of the two fish tugs, the commercial fishing licenses, and most of the shanties and docks and is still raising funds to complete the purchase and renovations.
Through donations and grant funds, the FPS maintains and protects Fishtown to preserve it for future generations and offers educational and interpretive programs to build awareness and to celebrate one of the Great Lakes last historic fisheries. Each year Fishtown attracts 200,000 visitors, many that return year after year because of Fishtown’s unique sense of place.
Visit fishtownmi.org for more information about Fishtown and the Fishtown Preservation Society.