Only a fraction of the nearly 10 million trees once covering what is now Michigan exists today as old-growth forests like the beautifully serene Hartwick Pines near Grayling.
I always wanted to visit the Hartwick Pines and the Chapel in the Pines, and we recently did just that on the way home from a trip to northern Michigan.
The Hartwick Pines State Park forest is a reminder of how the state changed over the years as increased numbers of settlers migrated to Michigan and logging reigned as Michigan's major industry during the late 1800s.
The Salling, Hanson and Company of Grayling logged the land that is now Hartwick Pines State Park during the 1880s and early 1890s, but stopped when the economic "Panic of 1893" caused the lumber industry to falter.
By the end of the 1890s, with Michigan nearly denuded of trees as loggers clear-cut many of the remaining forests, the logging industry moved further west, leaving only a few stands of pines like the trees at Hartwick behind.
In 1927, Karen Hartwick, daughter of Nels Michelson, purchased 8,800 acres, which included an 85-acre stand of virgin white pines, as a memorial to her husband, Major Edward E. Hartwick.
Edward was a lumberman and Army officer who led a troop of the legendary Buffalo Soldiers who fought alongside Teddy Roosevelt at San Juan Hill during the Spanish American War. He volunteered for the Army during WWI and died in 1918 while serving in France.
Karen donated the land to the state, requesting that Michigan build a logging museum there.
The Great Depression slowed the project until men in the government's Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) arrived at Hartwick Pines in 1933.
The CCC built the logging museum, planted trees, improved streams and trails, and expanded the picnic and campground areas at Hartwick Pines over the next two years.
In 1935, Hartwick Pines became an official State Park.
In 1940, a huge wind storm felled nearly half of the old-growth pine forest, leaving only 49 acres of the original 85-acre forest standing.
Today, the Hartwick Pines are the largest stand of virgin white pines in Michigan's Lower Peninsula. The surviving trees are about 350-375 years old. The tallest trees are between 150 and 160 feet tall, with many having diameters of more than four feet.
The best place way to see the trees is along the 1-1/4 mile Old-Growth Forest Trail. The paved trail is fairly level and accessible, although there are a couple of steep grades.
The Logging Museum recreates an 1880s logging camp along the trail and is open from May 1 through Oct 31. There are outdoor exhibits of logging equipment and a statue honoring the CCC workers. Indoor exhibits include recreations of the bunkhouse, mess hall, blacksmith shop, camp office and camp store.
The Chapel in the Pines, built in 1952 by workers using hand tools and wooden pegs in place of nails where possible, is a nice spot to stop along the trail and meditate on the beauty of the old woods. It is also popular as a venue for small weddings.
Visitors can take an 8-mile scenic drive through the 9,600-plus acre park, which draws more than 250,000 visitors each year. The park has several interpretive trails, longer trails for hikers and cross country skiers, trails open to mountain bikers, a modern campground with 100 campsites and a rustic cabin, a group campground, and lakes with boat ramps with handicapped accessible fishing piers where fishers can try their luck catching blue gill, pan fish, largemouth bass and rainbow trout.
The Hartwick Pines visitor center is the official interpretive center for Michigan's 3.9 million-acre state forest system. It is open year round and includes a 1,500-square-foot exhibit hall with displays illustrating the history of Michigan's forest and the history of logging in the state.
Check out Shay Locomotive moves lumber industry in Cadillac to learn more about the railroads and logging in Michigan and Keweenaw Mountain Lodge: Legacy of hope in hard times about another 1930s government works project in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Want to learn more about the CCC in Michigan? Check out Fires in the Wilderness: A Story of the Civilian Conservation Corps Boys by Jeffery L. Schatzer, whose father worked at a CCC camp in 1935, or Proud to Work: A Pictorial History of Michigan's Civilian Conservation Corps by Annick Hivert-Cathew.
© Dominique King 2011 All rights reserved