Michigan’s Forest Legacy

Lumberman’s Monument a tribute to state’s logging history and role providing wood to build the Midwest
Lumberman’s Monument was dedicated in 1932 to pay tribute to the men who felled Michigan forests to create lumber for building housing, ships and manufacturing across the Midwest. // Photograph courtesy of iStock/Nnehring

It’s not often that man can improve on nature, but Lumberman’s Monument near Oscoda is a true artistic hidden gem. Dedicated to the men who worked in the state’s 19th century logging heyday when Michigan forests were felled to produce lumber for ships, housing and manufacturing across the Midwest, its centerpiece is a noble bronze statue of three lumbermen — a surveyor, sawyer and “river rat.” It sits near a high bluff that looks out over a glorious expanse of the Au Sable River.

The site has a visitors center and several trails. Trek 242 steps down to the river or walk the Highbanks Trail past a series of mighty sand dunes where logs were once rolled down to the river and floated to the sawmill or barges on Lake Huron. Visitors learn how lumber got from the forest to the sawmill. They can climb a log pile or visit a floating camp kitchen called a wanigan.

“You can spend a little bit of time or a lot of time, and there’s no charge,” said Delynn Lovelace, visitor information specialist. “There’s the river, and kids can run up and down the sand dunes, and you’re not inside. And in the fall the colors are so gorgeous.”

The site’s centerpiece is the monument itself. Dedicated in 1932, the 14-foot statue atop a tall platform was created by New York sculptor Robert Aitken. It cost $50,000, a lot for the time. It depicts a “river rat” driver holding a peavy (a lever to move logs), a surveyor holding a compass and a sawyer holding a saw. A close look reveals that the sculpture is not an average civic statue — it is art. Aitken was not your run-of-the-mill sculptor. He was the guy who went on to sculpt the “Equal Justice Under the Law” West Pediment above the entrance to the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., and also create allegorical statues of “Past” and “Present” in front  of the National Archives. Here in the woods, 15 miles west of Oscoda, Aitken’s work also shines.

About 150,000 people a year visit Lumberman’s Monument. It is part of the Huron-Manistee National Forests. Most people come in summer and fall when wildflowers bloom and autumn color peaks. Hikers like the flat 7-mile Highbanks Trail that hugs the bluff’s edge and continues to Iargo Springs and other destinations along the River Road National Scenic Byway. Just east of the parking lot is the tiny U.S. Forest Service Monument Campground, founded in 1909. Sleep here, and the big excitement is waking early to catch misty views over the river — and see the monument once more.

Lumberman’s Monument is at 5401 Monument Road, Oscoda. The visitors center is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily from mid-May to late October. It has programs on everything from Bigfoot to log rolling; it also has a historical display and gift shop. For more, contact (989) 362-8961 or see bit.ly/LumbermanMonument.

— Ellen Creager

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