AUGUSTA, MI. -- There are only two state recreation areas here in West Michigan. One is Yankee Springs in the Gun Lake area and the other is the historic Fort Custer in Augusta in Kalamazoo County. The recreational area was originally part of the Fort Custer federally owned military base until a portion of it was eventually deeded over to the state for recreational purposes.
The land Fort Custer sits on was acquired in 1917 by the Federal Government and used as an induction and military training center for the US Army. There was never a fort on the land even though the area has had a large military history. It was named after General George Custer (Civil War era). The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) acquired the land in 1971 as part of President Nixon's administration Legacy of Parks program. The recreation area still borders the Fort Custer Army National Guard Reserve Site and military training exercises can be heard from time to time in the distance.
If you're wondering what the difference is between a state park and state recreation area, 30 year veteran Michigan DNR employee and Fort Custer Park Manager Tony Trojanowski says “Michigan parks are closed to hunting and trapping unless specifically ordered, typically by a director’s order. Recreation areas are open to hunting and trapping unless specifically closed.” The other difference? Parks are usually 1,000 acres or less while recreation areas are typically much larger. Fort Custer sits at around 3,033 acres or about five and a half miles of play area.
The property has 219 camp sites complete with fire pits and electricity, plus cabins for rent that can sleep up to 12 people. There are three lakes in Fort Custer and a beautiful large beach with picnic tables, outdoor grills, and a seasonal concession stand. Kayaks and canoes are available for rent. Fishing on each lake is said to be excellent as well. Various trails are available for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. In fact, over 15 miles of equestrian trails are part of the recreation area.
If you'd like more information click here for the Department of Natural Resources website. More information is also available here at the Pure Michigan website. You can find a map of Fort Custer along with their reservation page here. Find more Fort Custer information here from the State of Michigan.
There are a couple of other things we found in Augusta worth nothing. Their well-kept Fort Custer National Military Cemetery is certainly a site to see. Click here for more on the cemetery. A portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail also runs through the area. The trail is part of seven states from New York to North Dakota and spans 4,600 miles. Click here for more on the trail.