In the late 1920s, 8000 acres of land near Grayling in Michigan's Lower Peninsula were donated to the state as a memorial park. Included in this land were 85 acres of old growth white pine, which had been spared during Michigan's booming logging industry days. Only 49 acres of this original growth forest remain today as a fierce wind storm destroyed nearly half of these massive trees in 1940.
Interpretive displays at the park visitor center tell the story of the park and surrounding Au Sable River Valley. Trails leaving from the visitor center wind through the park allowing hikers to observe maple, beech, oak, birch, hemlock, and red and white pine trees. The Old Growth Trail loops through its namesake stand of 300-400 year old white pine.When I arrived at the park after leaving Wyandotte Lodge, the morning continued to be cold and crisp. I was thankful for the hat and gloves I had thrown in the car at the last minute. Although the early October weather had been warm and sunny so far, this could change at any minute and I had to bundle up as I set out to walk through the forest. The sunny sky above the tree canopy shone a bright blue, but the thick covering of leaves did not allow much warmth to penetrate to the forest floor. Patterns of light and shadow on the green, yellow, and orange leaves created a beautiful display as I walked through the cold and quiet woods.Trails throughout the park are open year round and some are groomed in winter for cross country skiing. Despite the beautiful fall day, I began to experience the onset of Winter Fever. Another old growth stand of pines can be found in the Upper Peninsula in Tahquamenon Falls State Park, and I had the pleasure of snowshoeing the Giant Pines Trail a few years ago after a beautiful snowfall. Hartwick Pines State Park would be another ideal place to visit during the cold months for an undoubtedly stunning winter hiking experience.
Also observed along the Old Growth Trail is Chapel Of The Pines: a log Chapel built in 1953. The tiny but beautiful Chapel sneaks up on you as you curve through the forest and is a fun diversion from the trail. Inside, below the structure's most dominant feature – a large cross-shaped window – visitors can read “Nature's Prayer”: a plea for guidance in protecting our natural heritage.
The last stop before returning to the visitor center (or the first depending upon your direction of travel) is the Logging Museum. Two log structures were built in the 1930s to display exhibits and artifacts from a time in Michigan's history where the log industry generated more money than all the gold extracted during California's gold rush. One building houses tools, photographs, and displays showing how the trees were cut and moved from the forest to the Au Sable River which was used as a highway to transport the huge logs. The other building shows how loggers lived in a typical Michigan logging camp. On the grounds surrounding these two buildings one can observe various pieces of old equipment used to cut and transport felled trees.
Hartwick Pines State Park is located just northeast of Grayling, close to I-75. The park and visitor center are open year-round; the Logging Museum is closed November-April.