Thursday, June 23, 2016

Hartwick Pines State Park

A switch from the usual rock with a plaque
I'd been curious about Hartwick Pines State Park for several years. Once or twice a summer a fellow who said he volunteered at the park would stop by the Baraga County Historical Museum to see if we'd unearthed any new material on the Thomas Nester Lumber Company. He said he'd been researching Nester for a number of years. Nester had a huge logging operation in the Upper Peninsula but got his start down around Muskegon or Saginaw. We weren't able to be particularly helpful -- our Nester files are remarkably thin despite Nester being a huge presence locally for several decades -- but we tried.

In return, the fellow gave me pep talks about restoring our logging high wheels. He said Hartwick Pines had a set they'd restored and it wasn't that hard, just time-consuming. He kept telling me that as long as we have all the iron, we can do it. He even sent the museum a copy of a DVD Hartwick Pines sells that shows the process a fellow went through in restoring a set of high wheels near Traverse City. Hearing Hartwick Pines had a set in good condition definitely piqued my curiosity. I've seen two sets of high wheels in addition to the collapsed mess the museum has, and in both cases the wheels were close to needing restoration work again (both sets have a pretty good lean, which means they're at risk of doing what ours did -- fall over and shattering).

In any case, as long as we were in the Downer Peninsula and had to go right by the park -- it's right next to I-75 just north of the city of Grayling -- I figured we might as well check it out. We stopped in Grayling for lunch at a Big Boy. I keep seeing that franchise mentioned on Facebook as a "remember when?" as though all Big Boys everywhere had ceased to exist, which has me wondering about people who seem to think that just because they haven't seen something for awhile it's gone forever, but that's a digression. Our ultimate goal in Grayling was Hartwick Pines, not strawberry pie, so that's where we headed, more or less. The main street through Grayling is currently under construction so getting out of town turned out to be a tad more challenging than driving in had been.
Why are the CCC guys in bronze always depicted as shirtless? Or, better question, just how many copies of this particular statue have been cast? Trees for Tomorrow in Eagle River, Wisconsin, has one, too. Is this the official CCC guy, the exemplar for everyone who joined the Civilian Conservation Corps?

I had been thinking about the park primarily in terms of its logging museum, which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, so didn't realize just how huge the place is. It's over 9,000 acres and has a big campground (about 100 spaces total, 36 with full hookups), miles and miles of trails, and a couple of lakes.On paper it sounds like a great place to spend some time. In our case, however, we knew perrfectly well we're never going to subject the Guppy to the indignities of spending time in the Downer Peninsula. No need to check out a campground we have no interest in ever using no matter how attractive the brochure makes it sound. We went straight to the Visitor Center and then ambled over to the logging museum.
The logging museum consists of two long one-story log buildings erected by the CCC in the 1930s. One log building has a blacksmith's shop on one end and displays of logging tools throughout; the other log building has a kitchen, bunks, dining area, and company store. There's also a belt-driven sawmill powered by a humongous steam tractor. The sawmill is in a pavilion that's enclosed with chain link fencing: you can see in, but you can't walk through.

Various pieces of horse-drawn equipment, like the swing-boom jammer shown above, are on static display. I noticed Hartwick Pines was having the same issues with outdoor storage of wooden equipment that everyone does -- things were beginning to look a little shabby, rot was starting to creep in, although nothing was looking too run-down yet. And their high wheels look great.
They actually have two sets. One pair is set up in the logging museum area; the other pair is right at the main entrance to the park. The set in the museum area is about the same size as the one we have in Baraga -- or about the size our set would be if it was actually intact instead of being piled in pieces on the ground, about 12 feet in diameter.
I thought they did a nice job with the displays of logging tools and other artifacts, too. Seeing their ax display definitely gave me a few ideas for the museum in Baraga, and for sure I suffered intense brand envy when I saw this:
We've got a few log branding hammers at our museum, but no where close to this many. We do have a nice collection of branded log ends, though, and one of these days should figure out a better way to display them.
The park does have quite a few miles of hiking trail, including some short loops right around the Visitor Center. You have to walk a bit to get from the VC to the logging museum; you can also do a loop around through some remnant old growth forest. The trails around the Visitor Center are paved and accessible so I'm not sure walking them counts as "hiking." It's more like doing some gentle ambling. Very nice, of course, but not particularly challenging. The park is popular with birders -- we encountered several people who were armed with cameras with telephoto lenses that could probably zoom in on a mosquito's eyelash from a mile away -- although the only wildlife I saw was a squirrel.  I'd recommend a stop at Hartwick Pines as a travel break for anyone stuck having to drive down (or up) I-75. It's close to the Interstate but far enough away to be an actual break. There is a day use fee (all Michigan State Parks charge entrance fees), but when the annual pass is only $11 for state residents, it only takes two trips to a state park and the pass is paid for. 


  1. I've seen lots of pictures of CCC men and most of them were wearing shirts. Helen may have seen one without a shirt but she was dating him. :-)


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