National Forest celebrates 100 years serving the U.P.

By: Kim Hoyum
Two thousand and nine is a landmark year for the Upper Peninsula’s familiar Hiawatha National Forest, as it celebrates its centennial as the state’s oldest national forest. hia
The current Hiawatha National Forest had its start in 1909, when then-President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed a small area of the U.P. as the Marquette National Forest. Over the years, the Hiawatha has grown into a two-part national forest covering hundreds of thousands of acres in the central and eastern U.P.
“The Hiawatha National Forest includes about 900,000 acres in five Upper Peninsula Michigan counties,” said Hiawatha National Forest Public Affairs Officer Janel Crooks. “It’s divided into an east unit, located in the eastern U.P. near Sault Ste. Marie and St. Ignace, and a west unit, which lies in the central U.P. near Munising, Manistique and Rapid River.”
The forest encompasses shorelines on Lakes Superior, Huron and Michigan, six wildernesses, six lighthouses, five scenic rivers, the Grand Island National Recreation Area and Whitefish Bay Scenic Byway.
It grew to include all these things from a much less attractive beginning, as the parts of the U.P. unwanted for settlements or logging were put under the auspices of the federal government early in the twentieth century.
“The Marquette National Forest was a small unit in the beginning—so small that for a while it became part of the Michigan National Forest, administered from Cadillac,” said Hiawatha National Forest archaeologist John Franzen.
It was formed from large areas of public lands that went unclaimed and weren’t homesteaded because of their barrenness and sandy soil, according to historical information provided by the Hiawatha National Forest.
Large areas of the eastern and central U.P. timberlands were cut for wood between the turn of the century and the early 1930s, leaving vast tracts of “cutover” land that the national forest system acquired.
By 1931, enough land had been added through purchasing that the U.P. got back its own national forest through another proclamation from then-President Herbert Hoover.
Then the Great Depression struck the United States, and the Upper Peninsula was no exception. In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps was established as a citizen workforce to put people back to work improving the nation’s forests and parks.
Workers with the CCC came to the Marquette National Forest to plant trees, build roads and trails and campgrounds, providing hands and backs for projects that otherwise couldn’t have been done.
“Labor-intensive projects, like tree planting on cutover lands, would have been impossible without the CCC,” Franzen said.
The forests expanded further, and they were combined with the existing Hiawatha National Forest (the current west unit) in 1962.
Grand Island became part of the forest after being acquired from the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company and the Coast Guard turned over control of several abandoned lighthouses to the forest as well.
Hiawatha National Forest supervisor Tom Schmidt said the celebration of the forest’s centennial includes the positive difference the Forest Service and its employees have made in that period.
“The Forest Service has been caretaking these lands for 100 years, and during that time the condition of the land has improved from cutover wastelands to productive lands we have today,” he said.
The anniversary has been noted through the year, with celebratory awards recognizing volunteers and employees in July. Through October, a centennial exhibit tracing the history and attributes of the forest will be on display at the forest’s visitor center in Rapid River, Crooks said.
“The forest has scheduled a variety of events throughout the year, with the highlight being our centennial celebration held in July,” Crooks said. “We’ll wrap up the fall by featuring our centennial exhibit at the visitor centers in Munising and Rapid River.”
Along with the centennial this year, the Hiawatha National Forest is the site of about $11.5 million in improvements funded by the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Some of these improvements are underway already, while others are planned to begin later this year and in 2010.
One of these is the $900,000 AuTrain road reconstruction project, which will resurface about three miles on three roads: Buck Bay Road, Campground Road and AuTrain Lake Campground Access, all in Alger County.
The project began in August and will be completed by November 2010 by the Alger County Road Commission.
HNF Supervisor Schmidt and road commission engineer-manager Bob Lindbeck praised the project as a long-needed upgrade.
“We have constantly worked to patch this severely deteriorated pavement with no ability to fund reconstruction,” Lindbeck said. “With the cooperation of the Forest Service, we are finally able to provide an improvement to serve the Alger County residents, as well as campground visitors.”
Schmidt said the project is one of several related to forest improvement, including road maintenance, watershed and ecosystem restoration, hazardous fuels reduction and facilities and trails improvements.
“The rehabilitation of roads also improves water quality by reducing sediment in nearby streams, and helps to restore natural resources and habitat for fish in areas impacted by deterioration and erosion of road surfaces,” Schmidt said.
The other Recovery Act-funded projects include a $3.5 million resurfacing and reconstruction of Delta County Road 513, which also serves as Forest Highway 29. About eleven miles of the road will be resurfaced by the Delta County Road Commission.
Another $250,000 will go toward installing new reflective signs informing forest users about legal and restricted use of off-road vehicles in the forest, which will help improved safety in the forest and comply with new requirements for signage.
A million-dollar project also taking place in the Hiawatha National Forest is the Mackinac Trail reconstruction, in which about four miles of the Mackinac Trail, also known as Forest Highway 26, will be redone by the Mackinac County Road Commission.
Watersheds in the forest will benefit from three projects, including replacement of two existing drainage structures, design of ten to fifteen drainage structures and replacement of multiple existing culverts. These all will help aquatic life in the forest by improving the water systems and connections, and together are being done with $2.8 million in federal funds.
Three more projects totaling $471,000 will address safety issues, such as hazardous fuels removal and fire break maintenance in Chippewa, Alger, Delta and Schoolcraft counties, and $419,000 will provide funding to replace toilet buildings and site furniture at various recreation sites throughout the forest, improving accessibility.
Two well-known and often-used recreation and education areas also will see improvements. The Grand Island National Recreation Area in Alger County will have a condemned bridge replaced along its trails, and deteriorated culverts in the recreation area will be replaced. That $500,000 project will be awarded by the end of January 2010, with the work planned to be completed by October 2010.
The Clear Lake Education Center in Schoolcraft County will receive $620,000 for erosion control, rehabilitation of existing water and sewer systems and improvements to trails and walkways to meet accessibility standards.
The Clear Lake improvements also are scheduled to be completed by October 2010.
“The economic recovery projects will have benefits on several levels,” Crooks said. “For instance, improvements to forest infrastructure such as roads or facilities will help the forest eliminate deferred maintenance (or upgrading deteriorated services) while providing jobs for local contractors, enhancing the area’s tourism reputation, protecting or improving habitats and creating safer, more enjoyable experiences for everyone.”
—Kim Hoyum

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