The Curious and Wonderful World of MDNR Land Auctions


The MDNR is auctioning off 97 parcels of state land in August and September. Pictured here is a forested property across the street from Idlewild Lake, 0.6-plus acres on Lake Drive in Lake County.

By Doug Marrin, STN Reporter

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) is conducting another round of auctions to sell off surplus state lands.

The announcement is enough to evoke visions of obtaining your slice of northern Michigan paradise if you don’t already have one. If you already own a piece of our peninsular heaven, maybe you’re imagining how you might expand your horizons.

Michigan is famous for its natural resources. Heck, while he was growing up, Ernest Hemingway’s family migrated north each summer from their home in Chicago (along with a lot of other Chicagoans) to the forested lakes and streams of the Water Wonderland State. The Hemingways had a house on Walloon Lake near Petoskey where they would sail, swim, fish, and Ernest would accumulate inspiration that would serve him in his writing. Coincidentally, another famous Chicago figure, Al Capone (born the same year as Hemingway), chose the same area for his hideouts during prohibition. If you’ve ever been to Walloon Lake, you understand why anyone would be happy to make the 352.8-mile journey more than a decade before the first freeway opened in Michigan.

But if you’re from Michigan, living in Michigan, or ever enjoyed the great outdoors of the Great Lake State, I don’t need to sell you on our state’s therapeutic salve. But the MDNR wants to sell you on it, literally.

In August and September, the MDNR is auctioning off almost 100 parcels of Michigan land featuring lake frontage, trail access, and small lots (and some very small lots). The parcels are available mainly in central/northern Lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

If you visit the State’s website,, you can find a detailed list of properties that includes land description and minimum bids. And what you find there may surprise you.

Properties for sale range in size from under an acre to 120 acres. That “under an acre” description caught my attention. Out of curiosity, I scrolled through the listings.

Take, for example, lot #10004 in the City of Sault Ste. Marie. The property is listed as 0.01 acres (one-hundreth of an acre!?), and the starting bid is $540. That appears to be affordable and able to fit my tent. But, the comments include, “appears to be a parking lot.” That’s a strange piece of property for the MDNR to be managing.

Or, how about these Lake County properties shown below?

Many of the parcels are fragmented pieces with no recreational value for the MDNR. Some lots are completely landlocked.

This is a strange fragmentation land to have managed by the DNR. One of the lots is landlocked with no easement. A number of the parcels offered in the auctions are landlocked. When you consider that the MDNR conducts one or two of these auctions each year, that’s a lot of oddball lots the state has acquired and wants to unload. Curious, I asked the Michael Michalek of the MDNR’s Real Estate Section how this happens.

“A majority of the property, like those in Lake County, was acquired by the State of Michigan via tax reversion,” said Michalek. “Before the early 2000s, when the tax reversion law changed, the State of Michigan would acquire property all over the state via tax reversion. This ranged from subdivision lots to vacant acreage parcels. The properties that fit into our management strategy are retained.”

I had to look up “tax reversion.” According to the Michigan Dept of Treasury’s website, “Tax reversion is the process by which delinquent property taxes are collected, or in lieu of collection, the process which governs the disposition of real and tangible personal property upon which property taxes remain unpaid.”

Well, that makes sense. But I also wondered who would bid on a parcel of land that was landlocked with no easement.

“There are several types of buyers that purchase the DNR surplus properties,” says Michalek. “Typically, the adjacent landowners take interest in the sale. If the property has road frontage or acreage, outside buyers could have interest for hunting/fishing, camping, or building a home/cabin.”

That makes sense too. I thought of a possible third buyer—a feuding neighbor who purchases the parcel for the sole purpose of being a pain in the (land down under). But I don’t want to put ideas into anyone’s head.

A forested parcel in Yates Township, Lake County, 28-plus acres on Nelson Road.

The MDNR stated in a release, “Many of the sale parcels are forested and/or have road frontage but are better suited for private ownership. Much of the land offered in these auctions is isolated from other DNR-managed property, which creates some challenges and inefficiencies. Other parcels are included in the auctions because they offer limited recreation benefits to the public.”

Some of the more desirable parcels include:

  • A Berrien County property with frontage on Lake Michigan.
  • A Mason County parcel with frontage on Weldon Creek.
  • A property in Mecosta County along the Little Muskegon River.

Two structures are also being offered: an old DNR equipment building in Caseville and the abandoned Big Rapids Railroad Depot. The depot was built in the 1800s for the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad. It has sat empty and abandoned for the past several years. The City hopes someone will buy the property to renovate the building and preserve a piece of history.

Starting bid for the old train depot in Big Rapids is $20,000

Fourteen online auctions, featuring available land parcels by county, are scheduled:

  • Aug. 2 – Benzie
  • Aug. 3 – Chippewa and Mackinac
  • Aug. 4 – Menominee
  • Aug. 6 – Kalkaska and Roscommon
  • Aug. 12 – Alcona
  • Aug. 16 – Mason
  • Aug. 17 – Clare, Lake and Newaygo
  • Aug. 24 – Berrien
  • Aug. 25 – Mecosta
  • Aug. 26 – Allegan and Kent
  • Aug. 27 – Midland
  • Aug. 31 – Huron
  • Sept. 2 – Saginaw
  • Sept. 3 – Genesee

You don’t have to be a bootlegger or famous writer to escape to or be inspired by Michigan’s beautiful land. And perhaps through the MDNR’s auction, you can secure a little more of it. After all, “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.”

For more information, visit

Click the link below for a PDF of property descriptions.

All photos courtesy of MDNR

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