Notes from the North Country

by Lon and Lynn Emerick

The trail spiraled down from a ridge of mature hardwood trees and entered a dense grove of mixed hemlock and white pine. We were in a state of grace after strolling through lush arrays of early spring wildflowers—hepatica, Adder’s tongue, Dutchman’s breeches and Spring Beauty. Beside the path, we came upon a wooden Forest Service sign: The Ponds.
And there they were, on both sides of the trail, small ponds glistening in the sun. With a surge of excitement, we notice a convention of turtles sitting on fallen logs along the edge of the water. Small turtles, large turtles, at least thirty-two of them by a rapid count. They seem to be enjoying a leisurely sunbath after the long winter.
We can’t guarantee you will witness a gathering of turtles at The Ponds, but you will gather good memories. An undeveloped site in the Hiawatha National Forest (with only a very small, mostly hidden, back-country campsite), The Ponds is one of our favorite places simply to sit, quiet the noise and hurry of everyday life and revel in the natural sights and sounds. And it’s possible you may experience a once-in-a-lifetime event in nature.
Several years ago, we took a small class of beginning birders to The Ponds in early May. As we approached the spot on the trail where you can see both ponds, a male scarlet tanager alighted on a branch just over our heads. The new birders let out an audible gasp as slanting rays of the morning sun lit up the bird’s brilliant red plumage. Then, in a remarkable coincidence, a male Blackburnian warbler—so gaudily colored his nickname is Fire-Throat—landed in the same tree. Later, the students insisted we had prearranged this extraordinary event. We just smiled, knowing they had become enthusiastic new birdwatchers that day.
One year, we also celebrated Thoreau’s birth date (July 12) at this remote site. All of us shared favorite passages from Walden and enjoyed the flute music provided by one member of the party. A flute player himself, Henry would have approved.
The best time for seeing wildflowers and birds near The Ponds is the second week in May; this may vary from year to year. The easiest way to get to The Ponds is to travel on M-94 (east from Marquette, west from Munising.) Right across M-94 from the Valley Spur Ski and Bike recreation site, look for Forest Service Road 2276. Proceed on this gravel road for about 1.3 miles, and watch for the blue-and-white North Country Trail markers on both sides of the road. Park on the right side at a wider part of the road, and follow the blue blazes on the left side of the road about a quarter-mile to The Ponds.
Our own favorite way to get to The Ponds is a longer three-mile—but wonderful—walk on the North Country Trail. On M-94, look for Forest Service Road 2274 (also called AuTrain Camp Road because it was the site of a CCC camp). Proceed north on this gravel road about three miles until again you see North Country Trail markers. On your left is an open area for parking; the old CCC site with some remaining foundations is a short walk west on a grassy two-track road. After you check out the CCC site, return to the parking area, cross the road and head east toward The Ponds on the blue-marked trail. This trail section traverses hills and valleys, beautiful stands of beech and black cherry trees, with wildflowers covering every hillside.
A gentle reminder: Leave no trace of your passing, and give quiet thanks to the North Country Trail volunteers who maintain this pathway across the Upper Peninsula for us all.

— Lon and Lynn Emerick

Editor’s Note: Comments are welcome by writing MM or e-mailing marquettemonthly@marquettemonthly.org
Lon and Lynn Emerick’s Upper Peninsula books: The Superior Peninsula, Going Back to Central, Lumberjack—Inside an Era, Sharing the Journey, You Wouldn’t Like it Here and You STILL Wouldn’t Like it Here are available at area book and gift stores or by visiting their Web site at www.northcountrypublishing.com

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