Thursday, June 27, 2013

Hartwick Pines State Park: Old-Growth Trail (Blog Hike #393)

Trail: Old-Growth Trail
Hike Location: Hartwick Pines State Park
Geographic Location: northeast of Grayling, MI
Length: 1.2 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: July 2012
Overview: A hike on paved trail through ancient white pine forest.

Directions to the trailhead: South of the Mackinac Bridge, take I-75 to SR 93 (exit 259).  Exit and go north on SR 93.  The entrance to Hartwick Pines State Park is 2.2 miles ahead on the left.  Turn left to enter the park, pay the entrance fee, and then turn right just past the entrance station to head for the Visitor Center.  Park in the large blacktop parking lot near the Visitor Center.

The hike: I almost did not come to Hartwick Pines State Park.  I was nearing the end of a long hiking trip to the Great Lakes Region, and I had come down with a moderate cold complete with sore throat, runny nose, and sinus pressure.  I felt terrible, and I thought about calling it a trip, but I decided to take on one more short hike.  A few days later, I was very happy I did.
            Located in the heart of northern MichiganHartwick Pines State Park preserves the largest stand of virgin white pine forest in the Lower Peninsula.  The park’s name comes from Edward and Karen Hartwick, residents of Grayling in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  After Edward died while serving as an engineer for the U.S. Army during World War I, Karen bought 8236 acres of land near their home town of Grayling and donated them to the state of Michigan as a tribute to her late husband.
            The initial land donation occurred in 1927.  During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the park’s Hartwick Pines Logging Museum, another request of Mrs. Hartwick.  Additional land purchases bring the total acreage to 9672 and make Hartwick Pines one of the largest state parks in the Lower Peninsula.
            The present-day park contains a 100 site campground and a large picnic area, but the majority of the land remains in its natural state.  Many trails form an extensive network through the park, but the best trail may be the Old-Growth Trail, which features the virgin white pine forest.  Ironically, this paved trail is also the shortest and easiest trail in the park.  An interpretive pamphlet for this trail is available at the Visitor Center.
Trail map near trailhead
            Begin by walking out the back door of the Visitor Center and descending gradually.  The Old-Growth Trail is ADA-accessible, as evidenced by an alternate zig-zag path that leads around some steps.  At only 0.1 miles, the trail forks.  To follow the posts corresponding to the interpretive pamphlet in increasing order, this description will turn right now and use the left trail as a return route.
            Up to this point the trail has been traveling through second-growth beech-maple forest that was last logged in 1893, but now it enters the old growth white pines.  Notice how much larger (in terms of height and girth) the trees are, and notice how sparse the understory is due to lack of sunlight.  At 0.3 miles, you reach what remains of The Monarch.  This white pine stood 155 feet tall and 12 feet in circumference before it died as a result of storm damage sustained in 1992.  Today, only the trunk remains.
Hiking through the old growth
            At 0.4 miles, the trail passes a pair of deer exclosures, or fenced-in areas designed to keep deer out.  By comparing plant growth inside and outside the exclosures, park officials can estimate the size of the park’s deer population.  Just past the exclosures, the Mertz Grade Trail exits to the right.  Turn left to remain on the Old-Growth Trail.
            0.6 miles into the hike, a side trail to the park’s picnic area exits right; turn left to continue the loop.  After topping a small rise, you reach the chapel associated with the Hartwick Pines Logging Museum.  The log construction stands about 2 stories tall and makes an interesting sight in the middle of the forest.
Chapel in the woods
            At 0.9 miles, you walk into the logging museum proper.  The outdoor museum comes complete with log construction buildings and some pre-industrial era logging equipment.  Some interpretive plaques identify the structures and items.
Hartwick Pines Logging Museum
            The wide grassy trail traveling east-west through the museum area forms a 7.5 mile loop through recently logged land, so this hike turns left to exit the museum on the paved Old-Growth Trail and reenter the old-growth pines.  It may seem odd to be hiking on a paved trail in virgin forest, but the pavement keeps foot traffic concentrated in a small area, thus minimizing the impact of humans on the trees’ root systems.  At 1.1 miles, you close the loop.  A right turn and gradual uphill hike will return you to the Visitor Center to complete the hike.

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