By: L.C. Stephens

  Holiday or vacationing visitors to northern Michigan should plan a few hours at the historical HARTWICK PINES STATE PARK near Grayling, MI.   Travelers can exit I-75 at the junction of M-93 (Exit 259) and continue east about three miles to the Park Entrance.  Hartwick Pines is Michigan’s largest state park in the Lower Peninsula.  Overnight camping or day use sites are available while visiting the park.  One special attraction at the park is a 49 acre stand of Old Growth Pine. 

The Old Growth Forest Foot Trail begins and ends at the Michigan Forest Visitor Center.  The Visitor Center is one of the finest educational facilities in the Lake States with numerous displays that tell the story of our state’s forest.  The Visitor Center hours after Labor Day are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  The Center is normally closed from mid-November to mid-April. 

Historians often refer to Michigan’s lumbering era as the “time when white pine was king”.  At the time of statehood in 1837, the majority of the population was in the southern Lower Peninsula.  The heavy pine forest ran on a line from Muskegon to Bay City and presented an obstacle to expansion of ‘new settlements’ into the north. 


 ……the Visitor Center at Hartwick Pines State Park is one of the finest educational facilities in the Lake States with numerous displays that tell the story of our state’s forest.


The cutting and milling of timber in southern Michigan emerged as one of the ‘boom’ industries in the state’s economy. The export of lumber began around 1840 and continued over the two decades prior to the start of the Civil War.

  Following the Civil War, the move north to new forest areas brought adventurous entrepreneurs to the northern counties of Roscommon, Crawford and Otsego and then eastward along the Au Sable river corridor to Oscoda.  These land areas of the magnificent red and white pine forests were claimed by   the   lumber barons from southern Michigan.  The established lumbermen of the time, Alger, Bliss, Crapo, and Jerome all became governors of the State.  New risk takers   would achieve great wealth milling the northern forest. 

One of notable fame,   David Ward, owned timber on both sides of the I-75 corridor between Grayling and Gaylord.  Michigan led the nation in lumber production through the 1880’s.  When the rivers could no longer be used to drive logs from the remote timber blocks, a narrow gauge rail system opened the interior of the resource base to the iron horse and the industry in the northern Lower Peninsula continued to flourish into the twentieth century. 

 The historical account of the pine era lumber jack is most colorful but the historical record indicates that the forest type of hard maple, beech and hemlock occupied more acres than did the pine.  The hardwoods were not cut-over until the late 1930’s.

Today, it should be noted the second growth commercial forest acreage covers 19 million acres (about   50%) of the state’s total land base. Michigan has the largest state forest system east of the Mississippi River and three National Forest areas in the two peninsulas.  Private landowners still own about 53% of the commercial forest in Michigan and the forest industry is an $11 billion a year business. 

(For more information on Hartwick Pines State Park call 1-800-44PARKS)Historical references from:  MICHIGAN, A History of the Wolverine State; Willis Dunbar, 1965More forest information at: www.michiganforests.com or www.proforestcare.com.