Mission and Vision

     The mission of the Thunder Bay River Center is to preserve, protect & interpret the Thunder Bay River Watershed.
The River Center aims to promote the economic vitality & ecological integrity of the Thunder Bay River Watershed's five counties (Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency, Oscoda, Presque Isle)  through education, research & environmental stewardship.  It is the guardian of the Thunder Bay River Watershed, a center for research, an institute for environmental education, a showcase for green technology, & a hub for ecologically sustainable outdoor recreation.

     The Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary Board's original vision is to construct a state of the art, interpretive nature center that flawlessly provides STEAM (science, technology, education, art, and math) education for all ages.  It is vital that Northeast Michigan has a place that allows people of all ages to celebrate its industrial past and learn about how humans impact the local ecosystems.  To that end, the board fostered the creation of the Thunder Bay River Center, Inc. whose board's  role is to carry out the plan to build and sustain the River Center.

    The Thunder Bay River Center will be located adjacent to the Duck Park parking lot just off Long Rapids Road.
NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Museum is currently housing the first Thunder Bay River Center exhibit, including rotating videos that take you through the unique ecosystems of the Wildlife Sanctuary.

     The Thunder Bay River Center board members currently include: Bill Haase,  Judy Kalmanek, Susan Nielsen, Adam Poll, Brian Bartosh, Greg Sundin, and Roger Witherbee.  Wildlife Sanctuary Board members are: Judith Kalmanek, Elizabeth Litttler, Vernie Nethercut, Roger Witherbee, Thomas Orth, Terry Gougeon, Susie Austin, Christian Stevens, Boris Gerber, and Karen Enterline .   Advisory Council members are:  Jeff Gray, 

Mary Beth Stutzman, Christine Witulski, Chuck Ingle,  Brandon Schroeder, and Bob Thomson.


About Us

The Donate Now button above will take you directly to the CFNEM website. Then click on River Center Fund link to make your donation at any time. 

Help make your River Center

a reality.  Embedded in the hillside of Duck Park,

it will be a thermometer

of the watershed's health,

a showcase of the

river's long life and an example

of our community's heart.

It can only happen with


Previously called Sportsman Island, and Oxbow Lake, the city-managed island houses 17 acres of varied and distinct ecosystems as well as extensive trail systems. Meadows, oak grove, pine forest and cedar marsh areas radiate with beauty and wildlife. Hike through the woodlands, or travel the gentle sloping trails along the 4,400 feet of Thunder Bay River shoreline. With five different ecosystems, no two paths are alike. Throughout the island there are many fishing platforms and a lookout area that is handicap accessible.

Island Park 
The Wildlife Sanctuary's Island Park is located on the Thunder Bay River, at the corner of US-23 and Long Rapids Road.  Access to the island is gained by way of a beautifully hand-hewn covered wooden bridge, created by Michael Kendziorski.  The bridge and the island are closed to vehicles.  (Please contact the city if additional access is needed to reach the handicapped accessible viewing area).  Visitors are encouraged to remain on the trails to help preserve the fragile ecosystems of the island.  Please, “Take only pictures, and leave only footprints.”


The cityscapes and buzzing sounds of cars are limited in the wildlife sanctuary, and make this a favorite escape for hikers, joggers, photographers, birdwatchers, fishermen, book readers, and pure nature lovers.

Duck Park

Duck Park offers fishing and a picnic area and provides a great vantage point for viewing a large variety of bird species in the sanctuary area. Kayak and Canoe rentals are available seasonally.

The Wildlife Sanctuary Board
Since the addition of Island Park in 1985, the City appointed a Wildlife Sanctuary Board as the stewards of the island.  As the Wildlife Sanctuary Board looks to the future, it aspires to provide an even greater service to the community, not only to educate and inspire an appreciation of the natural world, but also to revitalize the economy of the region.  The Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary Board therefore seeks to tap into Northeast Michigan's spirit of ingenuity in order to create the Thunder Bay River Center, a physical and informational gateway to the natural and cultural wonders of Northeast Michigan.

To contact the Wildlife Sanctuary Board email Terry Gougeon TPGougeon@hotmail.com

The River Center

Alpena, Michigan

The River Center Board recognizes and celebrates the efforts of the several State and Federal agencies and not-for-profit organizations that work tirelessly to conserve the natural resources that make Northeast Michigan unique. The significant investments of NOAA, USFWS, DNR, Huron Pines, Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, and others have opened a window of opportunity to bring about a "green economy" in Northeast Michigan. What's missing is the catalyst, the unifying force at the local level that lends synergy to the environmental education, research, and stewardship efforts underway in the region.

Together with its community partners, the Thunder Bay River Center will help people restore/preserve the healthy ecosystem of the Thunder Bay river Watershed.  To do this, interactive exhibits involving water quality, dam placement/removal, invasive species control, promotion of native river fish & supporting food sources will lead the participant into the outdoor laboratory, Island Park & the Thunder Bay River itself.  Many of Thunder Bay River Center's programs are guided by educational standards for science, technology, engineering, arts & math (STEAM)-tools desired by employers & needed by everyone in order to work & function.

Thunder Bay River Center is pictured as a 20,000 sq. ft. interpretive center.  Located within the unique 444 acre Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary, Thunder Bay River Center will serve as the thermometer of the watershed's health. It will operate year-round as an interpretive resource for students, teachers, fishermen, hunters, local retailers & agribusiness owners, industries, & for all of us who live in & accept our responsibility to conserve the Thunder Bay River Watershed.

The River Center will be designed to have "maximum impact for learning; minimum impact on the environment" through its renewable heating/cooling, use of recycled materials, native plant landscaping & earth-friendly footprint.  The River Center's construction techniques & systems will serve as models for environmentally responsible urban & agricultural builders & home owners.

The Thunder Bay River Center, with its multiple partnerships of people, businesses & industries, will be an attraction to the more than 400,000 tourists who visit the area each year.  Its unique combination of ADA compliant indoor-outdoor experience-based activities will make the River Center a destination for tourists & entrepreneurs who seek not only to learn more about the water, woods & communities of Northeast Michigan, but how a collaborative effort benefits the entire community.  With its focus on the Thunder Bay River Watershed's ecosystems, the Center's programs will complement both the Besser Museum's historical & cultural history of Northeast Michigan & the National Marine Sanctuary focus on the shipwrecks & ecosystem of Lake Huron.