Celebrating big birthday for Michigan’s largest state park – Porcupine Mountain
Visitors enjoy the view at the Lake of the Clouds overlook at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Ontonagon County. (Michigan DNR photo)
By JOHN PEPIN
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
MARQUETTE— In the early 1940s, a movement was underway to save from the woodsman’s ax the intact hemlock-hardwood stands in the western Upper Peninsula – in particular, those trees located in what was to become Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.
In October 1941, an article in the Detroit Free Press predicted a dire future for those timberlands if they were not saved.
“At the present rate of cutting, the largest single stand of virgin hardwood in the United States, covering 250 square miles of rugged country in Gogebic and Ontonagon counties, known as the Porcupine Mountains, will be reduced to a tree-less stump-covered waste in less than 10 years,” the paper reported.
According to an article from 1943 in the Escanaba Daily Press, the Porcupine Mountains “had been under consideration as a public park since 1923, when (P.J.) Hoffmaster, as superintendent of state parks, surveyed the area and recommended that the state acquire at least one township for public use and to preserve the natural scenic beauty. In recent years, agitation has been growing to preserve the virgin timber with which the mountains are covered.”
In those days following World War II, the Porcupine Mountains – the highest range between New York’s Adirondacks and the Black Hills of Dakota – still were attracting thousands of tourists, despite limited access.
“A road now runs along Lake Superior from Silver City to the bottom of the range, and a short, stiff climb brings sightseers to the top of the escarpment which overlooks the lake,” the Free Press story said. “Besides the road to Lake of the Clouds, there is only one other access to the roadless wilderness area of the Porcupines. That is the country highway that leads to the mouth of the Black River and Black River Park, one of the outstanding scenic spots in Michigan.”
The newspaper outlined the aims of those conservation-minded people organized to help preserve the area.
“A vacation-ground whose delights are just beginning to be discovered will lose much of its appeal,” the newspaper said. “This is the dread prospect—unless this great area of privately-owned land can be brought into government ownership so that the timber may be harvested on a selective basis.”
A 1943 Michigan Department of Conservation (precursor to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources) proposal urging land purchases for preservation as a park described the hemlock-hardwoods of the Porcupine Mountains.
“Except for an area immediately adjacent to Lake Superior, the slopes are covered with virgin forest growth of the hardwood-hemlock type, with small scattered patches of old-growth white pine interspersed,” the report read. “Almost every phase of this type is present, varying from almost pure hardwoods, maple, birch and basswood on the upper slopes through varying degrees of hemlock mixtures, to the stands on the lower flats where hemlock predominates.”
These rugged mountains offer many places where hemlock cathedrals provide inspiring places for peace and reflection – nature’s beautiful churches – open to all.