Seney was the center of action in the 1880s, both in and out of the woods. Situated along a railroad siding and the shores of the Fox River —used to transport the logs—it became an important transit point. Turns out, the local economy also revolved around drinking, whoring, and gambling. Seney was sensationalized in the national press, right along with Tombstone and other wild towns in the Wild West.
Problem was, Seney never had the huge fertile forests so common elsewhere in Michigan. Glaciers scrubbed this swath of the central U.P.  flat, creating a patchwork of rivers, wetlands, and rocky, sandy soil. The red and white pines that did grow here were leveled in just a few short years; soon, loggers were settling for the less valuable hardwoods and small conifers, burning the scrub as they went. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, they moved on, leaving behind the denuded land and vast “stump prairies.”
Optimistic farmers followed the quickly departed loggers. They burned the brush and went to great lengths to drain the wetlands, digging miles of 20-foot ditches. Yet their hopes were quickly buried by the area’s poor soils and they, too, departed almost as quickly as they came. But the fires had a more lasting effect, scarring the fragile soil deeply.
Eventually, humans began to help this beleaguered land. The immense Seney National Wildlife Refuge now manages and protects 95,000 acres immediately west of M-77, restoring the wetlands with an intricate series of dikes and control ponds in what began as a Civilian Conservation Corps project in the 1930s.
While humans on foot or bicycle can access much of this preserve via an extensive network of maintenance roads, the sanctuary offers plenty of seclusion for its inhabitants. More than 200 species of birds and nearly 50 species of mammals have been recorded here, including bald eagles, trumpeter swans, loons, even the occasional moose or wolf. Whether you’re a dedicated bird-watcher or a casual observer, Seney is a wonderful place to get in and among a fascinating array of wildlife.
Start your tour at the visitors center (906/586-9851, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily mid-May–mid-Oct.), five miles south of the town of Seney on M-77. A 15-minute audiovisual program, interactive exhibits, and printed materials give you a good overview of what you can expect (or at least look for) in the refuge. From the center, the 1.2-mile Pine Ridge Nature Trail allows for a quick foray into wetland habitat.
Many visitors to Seney never get out of their cars and beyond the Marshland Drive, which is a shame. A bicycle is really the way to experience Seney. Bikes are welcome on more than 100 miles of gravel and dirt maintenance roads, which are closed to all motorized traffic except refuge vehicles.
Though you won’t find any technical rides, a bicycle allows you to cover a lot of ground and is quiet enough not to spook much of the wildlife. Besides, there’s something magical about spinning down a gravel road amid chirping and twittering, with nothing but waving grasses and glinting ponds surrounding you for miles. No off-road riding is permitted in the refuge.