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At the turn of the century tourism was seen as a means to revitalize West Michigan's sagging economy, which took a strong downturn when lumber companies withdrew from the state in the late 1890s. As new resorts were being developed up and down the West Michigan coast, access to previously inaccessible dune land and lakefront became increasingly important. The sudden popularity of automobile transportation starting around 1908 completely changed how the region developed. The State Highway Department and the State Park Commission partnered to build a system of roads and state parks that provided public access to Lake Michigan and, before motels and hotels were available, camping facilities for auto tourists. A key feature of their efforts was the reforestation and beautification of West Michigan's roadsides so that they would appeal to tourists.
The golden age of West Michigan's resorts lasted from about 1920 until 1970. The West Michigan Pike became a part of Michigan's first state trunk line system (M-11) and the first federal highway system (U.S. 12 in Berrien County and U.S. 31 to Mackinaw City). The route was improved and realigned with New Deal funding throughout the 1930s. After World War II the resort areas on Lake Michigan gained new popularity with baby boomer families and throughout the 1950s and 1960s locally owned "mom and pop" motels and hotels were constructed.
West Michigan Pike Project Reports: