The heart of Michigan is found in its wild, natural landscapes, places like those where virgin timbers tower over the land; where saplings in the 1700s now are 300 years old. They stand as memorials to another era and provide a glimpse of what Michigan forests once looked like before the loggers cleared so many in the mid-1800s and early 1900s.
One of those special places, Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary near Copper Harbor on the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, was expanded in April to provide added protection for its old-growth trees and nearby wetlands. The Michigan Nature Association, an Okemos-based nonprofit, added 60 acres, bringing the preserve to 570 acres. An anonymous donor generously gave the group a $90,000 challenge grant to pay for the land but required MNA to raise another $90,000, which it did.
That success was cause for celebration — a fitting outcome on the 45th anniversary of the 1970s grassroots efforts to raise the initial money needed to buy the land, preserve the tract and spare it from the loggers’ axes at the time.
“This is probably one of our more storied nature centers because of its history,” said Julie Stoneman, director of outreach and education for MNA, Michigan’s oldest land conservancy. “There aren’t many places where people can go to see what Michigan looked like before European settlers arrived. It provides an opportunity to experience and understand what old growth means.”
The new property includes a half-mile of frontage along the Montreal River, known for its rare plant species, waterfalls and archeological sites. In MNA’s ownership, the land will be protected from future logging or mining. The new property also provides hikers with a protected route to the “fallen giant,” a huge white pine formerly nicknamed the “leaning giant.” It was 110 feet tall and 8 feet in diameter before it was blown down by a fierce north wind in 1987.
Estivant Pines has about 2½ miles of hiking trails. It is open to the public year-round. Snowshoes are recommended in winter; the area gets 275 inches of snow each year. As many as 85 bird species have been spotted there during warmer months.
It is one of several places around the state where wildlands enthusiasts can see and experience an old-growth forest. There are giant cedars, some 500 years old, in the Valley of the Giants located on South Manitou Island. They are accessible on foot, a 7-mile round-trip hike from the ranger station. Ferry passage to the island is provided by Manitou Island Transit in Leland.
With its 300-year-old trees, Hartwick Pines State Park off I-75 between Grayling and Gaylord is another. It has several hiking trails and an old-growth forest pathway, an outdoor logging museum that depicts life during the logging boom in Michigan and a large forest visitor center.
Warren Woods State Park, just north of Three Oaks in Berrien County, contains the last virgin beech-maple forest of its type in Michigan. The ecosystem is so rare it was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1967. Visitors can walk the 1½-mile hiking trail through the woods.
To learn more about Michigan’s remnant old-growth forest stands, visit bit.ly/OldGrowthForests.
Howard Meyerson is the managing editor for Michigan BLUE Magazine.