Back in Time: White Pine Village

White Pine Collage 2 Okay, class, settle down and pay attention. Today’s lesson is history, and our field trip to Historic White Pine Village will give us a glimpse of life in 19th century Mason County, Michigan… Walk the paths and explore the buildings of a logging and farming community frozen in time. Let’s take a tour, shall we? Stay together, please!

WPV Trapper CollageThe first Europeans to arrive in Mason County, Michigan – around 1835, before it was Mason County – were the trappers. Foremost among them was William Quevillon, who built this log cabin in 1850. Five years later Quevillon was appointed postmaster, and this tiny cabin became the first authorized post office in Mason County, while still housing a family of six. Think your mail is slow and expensive? Postage on a letter to a nearby town was 50 cents, and mail was delivered just four times a year!

1847 saw the first permanent settlers. Burr Caswell, his wife and four children arrived by schooner. With no proper harbor at the time, the family’s livestock had to swim to shore. The coast was a dense wilderness of tall pine trees, wolves and other critters, and the closest settler was in Manistee, 30 miles away. Did I mention it snows 90” a year here? WPV Courthouse CollageBy 1855, there were enough settlers to form Mason County, and Caswell’s frame house did double duty as the county seat. With the family upstairs, the main floor became the courtroom. The jail was this comfy space in the basement. The county seat moved to Lincoln Village in 1861, and the Caswells got their home back.

WPV Lumber CollageWith all those tall pine trees, it was inevitable that lumbering would become the predominate industry in the area. The first mill was built on Pere Marquette Lake in the late 1840s. Other mills followed -14 on Pere Marquette Lake alone – and by the 1870s, business was booming. The sawmill shed pictured holds a 48’ portable sawmill that would have been moved from camp to camp. The railroad arrived around 1875. Competition was fierce among the lumber barons, but by 1910, the lumber industry was collapsing, as the timber supply had become completely depleted.

WPV Firehouse Collage In a lumbering community, fires were a constant threat, so fire departments were needed. Ludington’s first fire house was  organized in 1883. The fire engine is a 1928 model.

WPV Farmhouse CollageFarming was and continues to be very important in Mason County. In 1880, Thomas Burns Sr. paid $1,190 for 80 acres of land to raise apples, peaches, cherries, vegetables, chickens, cows and grain. Thomas and his wife Mary had nine children, all of whom were needed to keep the farm running. Cooking was done on a wood stove, washing on the back porch, and – ahem – other things in the outhouse. The tiny bedrooms are just barely bigger than the beds they house.

WPV Barn Collage The Burns family would have had a barn similar to this, built without nails. The windmill was used to pump water from the well. A typical farm would use many pieces of machinery, including plows, hay loaders, grain drills, wagons and corn binders.

WPV Schoolhouse CollageThe Burns children would have attended a school – in the winter only – like the Marchido Schoolhouse, built around 1895. Imagine going to school every day here – kids of all ages together with one teacher, wood stove for heat, outside privy. Every child has a slate and desk, there’s a piano in one corner, and even a dunce cap. Better behave yourself!

WPV Store Collage Every town needs a General Store. There are all kinds of items for sale here: soaps, spices, dishes, dry goods, barrels of flour and molasses, axes, pots, pens and paper, buttons, even saddles.

MI White Pine - 10 Chapel_5519ascThe simple architecture of White Pine Chapel is typical of Protestant churches of the community.

If you’ve visited my Michigan gallery page, you will be familiar with Epworth Heights. To put the Methodist resort in historical perspective, it was founded in 1894, with the first cottages built the following year. Imagine – just 47 years after the arrival of the first permanent settlers, Mason County is popular enough to  have its own resort!


White Pine logs, Michigan, ca. 1910

CONSERVATION PIECE: Commercial logging in Western Michigan in the late 1800s had a devastating effect on the environment. Wide scale clearcutting left a landscape of stumps and woody debris; erosion was widespread, and fires frequently broke out. Furthermore, these areas were intentionally burned to provide farmland, which they were ill-suited for.

Fortunately, wiser minds began to see the danger, even while the destruction was going on. In 1887, the Forestry Commission was formed to protect and restore the state’s forests, three years before lumber production would reach its peak. In 1900, state reserves were created for reforestation. In 1938, Manistee National Forest was formed; it now encompasses 540,187 acres, including portions of Mason County.

Today, a large part of the logged areas have been reforested, with white and pine forests replaced by aspen, birch, oak and jack pine. The production of wood and forest products continues, albeit with an emphasis on sustainability and preserving the health and diversity of habitat and waterways. Particular care is taken to protect threatened species such as the Kirtland’s Warbler, Piping Plover, Karner Blue Butterfly and Pitcher’s Thistle. In addition, a wide range of recreational opportunities exist within the forest.

In other words, Michigan’s forests may not be pristine, but they’re a darn sight better than they were in 1890, and the days of uncontrolled clearcutting are long gone.

I hope you’ve paid attention, class. There will be a pop quiz tomorrow…

Coming soon: Farm Country

Michigan’s Natural Heritage: Cadillac Marsh

Michigan has 101 State Parks. So far, I had only seen one of them. Obviously, that had to be fixed!

Mitchell CollageIt was also time to get away from the Lake Michigan dune area, much as I love it, so I headed inland. The town of Cadillac is home to Lake Cadillac, Lake Mitchell, and in between, Mitchell State Park.

MI Mitchell SP_7198 a Within the park is the Mitchell Heritage Nature Trail. It’s a 2½ mile trail encircling a marsh, and just the thing to keep me out of trouble for a couple of hours. Or eaten alive, which was certainly my fear starting out. The trail began as a lovely walk through an old growth forest of maple, oak and pine. Turned out it was also home to gangs of marauding vampires in mosquito disguise. Knowing that I was headed for a marsh, I thought it could only get worse. Luckily, I was wrong; apparently these were strictly arboreal skeeters.

MI Mitchell SP_7201 aA brief meadow interlude, followed by a plunge into more woods just beyond.

MI Mitchell SP Flower_7242 a Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis.) A shrub that grows in marshes or on the edge of streams or lakes. It offers nectar to bees and butterflies, seeds for ducks and shorebirds and leaves for deer. Songbirds nest in the plant and small critters like insects, frogs and salamanders use it for cover. In other words, this is a friendly plant! (Thanks to Weed Warrior pal Mike for the identification.)

MI Mitchell SP_7239The observation deck offered a wide view of the marsh. From a distance it looks like a confusing tangle of green, doesn’t it? Look closely and you may see that there are dozens of different plants and shrubs here. Great habitat for wildlife. The Goldfinches sure loved it!

MI Mitchell SP_7264 aOutside the trail was a canal that reminded me of a castle moat. This was home to lots of turtles.

MI Mitchell SP_7246 aFerns reflected in the dark waters of the canal.

MI Mitchell SP_7212 a

Birch trees. But of course.

MI Mitchell SP_7230 aFUN FACT: This is a secondary growth forest. The original forest of white pine was decimated by logging in the late 1800s, and fire after that. White birch is often called the “fire tree”, because fire exposes minerals that spur the growth of birches, and it’s one of the first trees to reforest a burned area. This is an older birch woodland that is already transitioning to a beech and maple forest.

Young birch saplings often drew nourishment from the old pine stumps and grew up around them. Eventually the stumps would rot away underneath. These weird roots are the result!

MI Mitchell SP Lake Mitchell_7512 a2Back from the trail, at the more recreation oriented part of the park, here is Lake Mitchell (above), and the Clam Lake Canal (below.) The canal was built in 1873 to float logs between the lakes for the lumber industry, and is a third of a mile long.   MI Mitchell SP Lakes_7529 aMI Mitchell SP Lake Cadillac_7523 aAt the end of the canal, Lake Cadillac.

MI Mitchell SP_7378 aHappy trails!

Coming up: Back in Time: White Pine Village

Michigan’s Natural Heritage: The Ludington Dunes

MI Nordhouse Dunes Lake & Dune_5846 aMy dad told many fond tales of his boyhood summers spent on the shore of Lake Michigan. It sounded wonderful – lakes, beaches and forests – right up my alley. So when my California cousins invited me to join them at the family home in Ludington, Michigan, I jumped at the chance. This is the third summer they’ve opened their home and their hearts to me, and I’ve loved every minute of the chance to spend time with family. And, like my father, grandfather and great-grandfather, I’ve fallen in love with Michigan! During my stay, I’ve taken full advantage of the opportunity to explore the natural areas on the Northwest coast of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Of course, I’ve taken enough pictures to fill a multitude of blog posts. So we’d better get started!

Nordhouse Collage 2 This was the first year I got to the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area north of Ludington State Park and Hamlin Lake. Lying within Manistee National Forest, the Lower Peninsula’s only federally designated Wilderness Area encompasses 3450 acres of forest, dunes and interdunal ponds and marshes. The dunes were formed nearly 4000 years ago and can range as high as 140 feet. The Ludington Dunes Ecosystem has the largest area of fresh water interdunal ponds in the world. So why is it that every pond I’ve seen between the dunes in the last two years has been dry? Drought has taken its toll, on the ponds and the critters that live in them.

MI Nordhouse Dunes Marsh_5826 aOn the way to the trail-head, I drove through Manistee National Forest along a gravel and dirt road. Along the way, I stopped to check out the marsh area of Hamlin Lake (above) and the pine woods surrounding it (below). Notice how the trees grow in straight rows close together. This is a pine plantation, an area of pines planted for reforestation after the original trees were cleared in the logging boom of the late 1800s. Naturally-growing forests don’t look like this.MI Nordhouse Dunes Tree & Trail_5833 a

The trails through the Wilderness Area are legion, and as they say, “minimally signed.” Meaning, there are NO markers. Navigation even with a map is tough, as there are numerous social trails and wildlife paths not shown on the map. I tried to take the one trail that had trail markers, only to come to an intersection of four trails where the only marker pointed back the way I came! So, I obeyed it, and went back the way I came. Never let it be said I don’t do what I’m told.

MI Nordhouse Dunes Lake & Dune_5838 aMI Nordhouse Dunes Tree & Trail_5883 aMost of my hike went along a trail that paralleled Lake Michigan, along a wooded ridge above the lake. This was easy to follow without getting lost, and offered some great “peek-a-boo” views of Lake Michigan (above). At the edge of the trail, the side of the ridge dropped steeply away to the dunes 100 feet below. Not the place to search the treetops for birds while you are walking! Birch trees are numerous among the hemlock, beech, maple and pine trees of the forest. Birches are my all-time favorite tree; I can’t resist photographing their beautiful white trunks again and again.

MI Nordhouse Dunes Mushroom_5869 aI’m sure I saw a tiny fairy peek out from under the cap of this mushroom. Didn’t you?

MI Nordhouse Dunes Tree & Trail_5926 aThe Road goes ever on and on…

Ludington Collage 3Ludington State Park is nearly 5300 acres of sand dunes, ponds, wetlands and forests on a strip of land between Lake Michigan to the west and Hamlin Lake to the east. It’s a popular place for boating, fishing, swimming and camping. The black and white striped Big Sable Lighthouse stands guard at Big Sable Point and offers a wonderful view of the dunes, woods and lakes to those who climb it, as I did last year. The eight trails winding through the varied habitats of the Park are what keep drawing me back year after year. This year I tackled the Lost Lake and Island Trail, which follows a wooded sand dune ridge along Lost Lake before turning toward Hamlin Lake and returning through marshlands over a series of small islands.

MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail_5992 aLost Lake (above) and water lily (below).MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Flower Tree_6467 a

Views of Lost Lake. MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail_6188 a MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Flower Tree_6037 a

MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Flower Tree_6196 aMI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Flower Tree_6175 aMI Ludington SP_6257 a2Hamlin Lake is man-made, created in 1856 as a holding pond for logs awaiting processing at Charles Mears’ sawmill. Subsequent dam collapses wiped out the village of Hamlin, and the lumber mill closed. But the lake was becoming popular for recreation, and a new dam was built in 1914. The shoreline is dotted with old tree stumps, often with grass or tiny trees growing on them (above). Nature’s version of gardening in miniature. It amazes me where things will grow.

Sand dunes line the shore of the Hamlin Lake (right).

See? I can’t resist birch trees. Here’s why – white tree, green leaves, blue water. Can’t you just feel the breeze brushing your face here in the shade?MI LSP Sable River Trail_7179 a

Coming up: Michigan’s Natural Heritage: Cadillac Marsh