Now that summer is finally upon us and nature calls us to explore its many splendid venues, I am reminded of a poem by T.S. Eliot… “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time.”
This so accurately describes my feelings when I get out into the wilderness where the flow of nature’s seasons carves the landscape so very differently every year. It becomes so new and fresh all over again that when I get back to where I started it feels like the first time.
I have read that if you surround your senses in nature, the creative juices will begin to flow. Add to that an historical aspect nudging your imagination to journey through time to when early Native Americans may have traveled or later settlers laid down their roots or traversed a trail in this vast wilderness.
Often, especially during summer, I like to indulge myself with day trips on less-travelled routes, those hidden gems that may be a little off the beaten track, and less likely to be frequented by tourists, in hopes of ushering in such a time-traveling reverie.
Each U.P. county has such spots. In Marquette County, for me, that spot is the Forestville Falls trail, located off Forestville Road, just eight minutes from the city of Marquette. The first thing you see from the parking lot is a fenced property owned by the Marquette Board of Light and Power, with a sign warning you of surveillance cameras and not to trespass into the generating facility. It’s letting you know to stay on the trail. There is an opening in the fence to follow a gravel path up an incline. Taken slowly and steadily, it brings you to the plateau from which you’ll see signage down the other side toward the flowage below.
While the trail has had some improvements made to it over the years, it is not handicapped-accessible. Once you get down to the river, you are rewarded with rock formations likened to those found in Colorado and the West. Here you can enjoy the beauty of the area and have a picnic with friends or decide to explore further. The latter, however, will require crossing a creek over several logs. You can either stay at the base of the rock outcropping and proceed alongside the river, climbing over boulders at times to stay on the path, or you can take the other route, weaving uphill through the forest, until you get to a narrow path at the top on the edge of the cliff, overlooking the falls below. Once you get over and around this highland, both trails join back together, meandering along the river and through a series of waterfalls ranging from a few feet to approximately sixty feet high.
This area is popular with the college crowd, which often can be found camping in the woods throughout this gorge, or swimming on sunny days in the various pools created between the cascades. After a rainfall, this area can be more dangerous to swim in, and even in the summer months, it’s quite chilly.
This hike takes roughly two hours roundtrip at a steady pace. Most weekdays, you may be the only person there, but on weekends, plan on seeing other hikers, depending upon the weather. It’s a nice place to go on those extremely hot summer days since the trees combined with the ravine and water go a long way to cooling the temperatures, not to mention the mist and water particles floating in the air closer to the falls themselves.
Forestville’s enchantments always prompt me to imagine Native Americans using these same trails in earlier times, as waterways and the paths beside them were the roads of yesteryear.
When visiting Alger County, a hidden-in-plain-sight gem that is great for both nature lovers and history buffs is the Tyoga Trail. This historical pathway is less than two miles north of M-28 in Deerton, marked with a sign that easily can be overlooked.
Imagine yourself back in the early 1900s, most likely working alongside an Englishman, Finn, or French Canadian Lumberjack. Work was hard, long, and dangerous. You’d be part of a crew that felled massive virgin pine trees, shaking the ground with thuds that could be felt throughout the town.
Forty men were needed to run the mill. A huge steam engine operated the band saw. After an exhausting day in the woods, this rugged bunch would often begin drinking to soften sore muscles, escape the boredom and isolation of being away from family and friends, or bond with peers in this far-flung sawmill and town site. Alcohol-fueled fights frequently broke out.
The new town of Tyoga sat alongside the Laughing Whitefish River where a virgin forest contained trees one-hundred-and-fifty feet tall and 3 1/2 pound brook trout were often pulled from the river. The town’s residents numbered 150 in its heyday, housed mostly in plank houses and log cabins. The town boasted a company store, blacksmith’s shop, boarding house, horse barns, and cook’s shanty in addition to the sawmill, and eventually a school and a post office. But then the mill was sold to Cleveland Cliffs, which dismantled and moved it, leading Tyoga to become another of the Upper Peninsula’s ghost towns after only about a decade in existence.
The modern-day Tyoga Trail is easily walkable, with interpretive signs along the way making it a family-friendly adventure. Its 1.4-mile loop takes you through mostly hardwoods, but old growth pines can also be found, along with some foundations hidden among the overgrowth. You might even spot the graves of loggers accidently killed on the job, as well as remnants of the town’s railroad.
How long you’ll be on the trail depends on whether you take time to read its many signs, and what the weather has been, as some parts can become quite muddy after rainfall.
In Baraga County, our next “off-the-beaten-path” adventure takes place at the Hanka Family Homestead, settled in 1896 in an area later known as Askel Hill. This eighty-acre property was a subsistence farm, used primarily to provide food, heat, and water for survival.
Around 1890, a number of recent Finnish immigrant woodcutters at Bootjack near Torch Lake heard there was a freshwater lake with abundant fish somewhere near Chassell. Two of them successfully set out and explored this densely forested wilderness, finding Otter Lake sitting between deep ravines and high hills. The lake reminded them of Finland, so they returned to Houghton in hopes of gaining possession of this beautiful area.
Fortunately for them, Abraham Lincoln had signed into law the Homestead Act of 1862, so they were able to file their claims on September 13, 1890. Five families set out together via boat up the Sturgeon River, with the men following along the shore with cattle and a horse.
In 1889, after becoming unable to work due to a mining accident, Herman Hanka decided to homestead in the Misery Bay-Toivola area on 160 acres, roughly twenty miles from Askel. After several years of isolation and hardship, the family decided to move once again, this time to the settlement on Otter Lake.
In 1896, Herman’s older daughter, Mary, applied for a homestead and received it on the eighty acres where the farm is still preserved today. Records indicate the sauna and farmhouse were built first, followed by a log barn and a log root house. Five acres were fenced and farmed. The property also has a pond which was used in tanning leather.
Can you envision yourself living as the Hanka family did, spending nearly all of your day working to meet your basic survival needs? Wondering whether you would have enough food to last through your next winter? Whether your clothes would be warm enough? Despite the challenges of modern life, it’s far easier in so many ways for most of us to access these basics.
For more information and directions to experience the Hanka Homestead yourself, call the Keweenaw National Historic Park at (906) 337-3168 or visit http://www.hankahomesteadmuseum.org.
In Keweenaw County, a beautiful out-of-the-way hike where a person’s imagination might come alive is at Black Creek Nature Sanctuary. Within its 241-acres lies a 2.5 mile trail through a wide variety of landscapes, including sandy dunes with berries, meadows with wildflowers, and forest canopy of birch, balsam fir, maple and cedar. The path continues past beaver ponds and through conifers and hardwoods of various sizes.
Arriving at Lake Superior, where Black Creek and Hills Creek come together to create a spectacular, continuously-changing lagoon, you can find remnants of the copper mining era along the shoreline from old stamp sand deposits, as well as non-magnetic black basalt sand, and an assortment of multi-sized rocks.
This beach and creek area is also a hotspot for wildlife of all kinds – moose, wolves, beavers, black bears – and an aquatic home to various species of fish. Patient visitors will also enjoy watching a range of bird species in the canopy and on the shoreline.
To reach the sanctuary from Calumet, take M-203 west and head north on Tamarack Waterworks Road. Veer right onto Cedar Bay Road. You’ll find a parking lot on the east, and the trailhead less than a quarter-mile south.
Kevin McGrath can be found time-travelling through history on his journey through life. He can be reached with enough creativity or intention.
Excerpt from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Summer 2018 Issue, copyright 2018.