The DNR Parks and Recreation Division has announced the removal of Honeymoon Cabin in the Pigeon River Country State Forest. Too bad, that was Michigan’s most amazing trailside shelter and we have only ourselves to blame.
By Jim DuFresne
I had no idea what to expect the first time I hiked to Honeymoon Cabin. For years, I had noticed it on maps of Green Timbers, the non-motorized, 10-square-mile tract that is part of the Pigeon River Country State Forest. But I had been to Green Timbers Cabin and was unimpressed with the dark, uninviting log shelter on the banks of the Sturgeon River.
Both were part of a company hunting-and-fishing retreat that Don McLouth created for McLouth Steel employees in the 1950s and named Green Timbers. Eventually there were 21 log cabins built near the Sturgeon River but after the state took over the property in 1982, all of them were removed with the exception of two; Green Timbers and Honeymoon.
Green Timbers Cabin was an easy 2-mile hike. To reach Honeymoon I continued deeper into the interior of the rugged tract where in a small valley was a trail that headed up a ridge. There were no signs marking the trail, no indication that it would take me to my chosen destination for the night. In the days before GPS, it just looked like the right path to follow.
I climbed the ridge, instinctively began heading north on the crest and suddenly there it was in front of me, looking all the world like a mountain-top chalet, Honeymoon Cabin.
Along the back wall was a large fieldstone fireplace while the front wall had been removed to turn the one-room cabin into a free-use shelter. Honeymoon now opened onto a deck perched over the edge of the ridge from which I peered into the Sturgeon River Valley and then gazed at miles of ridges and trees that extended into the horizon.
I remember watching a stunning sunset from the deck and as soon as that burnt orange orb disappeared the first stars began popping out overhead. Honeymoon Cabin was miles from the nearest electric light so the stars were intense, almost blinding. The only time I have ever seen the northern lights in the Lower Peninsula was at Honeymoon Cabin where I spent an evening watching them dance across the sky above me.
It was an amazing place to unroll a sleeping bag and every backpacker I met there over the years agreed. Honeymoon Cabin was something special.
But no more.
The Parks and Recreation Division of the Michigan DNR announced last month that the cabins were “deemed unsafe for public use” and would be removed this spring. The usual DNR reasons were laid out in a press release; no money for renovation, a lack of maintenance on the structures for the past 30 years, inadequate staff to work on them now, potential liability if a step or floorboard breaks.
As is so often the case with state forest facilities, the solution is to remove rather than renovate. Trailside shelters are popular in many states, particularly out west, but here in Michigan we have very few. Now we’re going to dismantle the most beloved one as oppose to trying to save this piece of history that sits in a gem of a location.
Does that make sense?
Even more worrisome is the trend that seems to be developing since the Parks and Recreation Division took over the maintenance of state forest recreation facilities three years ago, the result of an unexpected surge of funding from the sale of Recreation Passports, the $11 state park sticker you buy for your license plate.
When the well at the Sand Lakes Quiet Area walk-in campground gave out the solution was to hang a sign at the trailhead saying the well is out and due to budget constraints probably won’t be replaced.
For experience backpackers the loss of the well isn’t a reason to cancel the trek, you carry in a water filter. But the easy hiking, short distances and walk-in campsites makes Sand Lakes a popular starting point for those just getting into overnight outings, particularly families. The well was a nice amenity, safe drinking water was one less thing to worry about.
Want to encourage people to go hiking and camp in the woods as the DNR claims it’s trying to do? Put a new well in at Sand Lakes.
When a long stretch of planking through a wetland was “deemed unsafe for public use” along the Jordan River Pathway the solution was to set up a detour along one of Michigan’s most popular backpacking trails. Now from the trailhead at the top of 1,300 foot-high Deadman’s Hill you descend into the river valley only to return to the crest of the ridge less than 2 miles later where you immediately descend it a second time.
For the short term, that’s a solution but the boardwalk went out more than a year ago and for the second straight summer the Parks and Recreation Division will be “studying the situation.” The fear of many is that the detour will become a permanent reroute due to “budget constraints.”
At the same time the DNR was announcing the removal of Honeymoon Cabin it also announced improvements will begin soon on the Houghton-to-Chassell Rail Trail in Houghton County in the Upper Peninsula. While the trail is certainly open to non-motorized users, in the winter it’s an interstate for snowmobiles.
So funds have been found, work will begin, the trail will be ready next winter because the reality is snowmobilers are organized, have a powerful statewide association, pay annual registration fees, are important segment of the northern Michigan economy during the winter.
They even have a lobbyist.
Hikers and backpackers have none of that and at times it appears that the DNR Parks and Recreation Division knows that. The result is the poor stepsister status of the state forest pathways, campgrounds and other facilities.
“It could appear like that, but I don’t think the process is to intentionally push our priorities in one direction,” said Rich Hill, the Gaylord District Supervisor for the Parks and Recreation Division who is overseeing both the Jordan River Pathway detour and the removal of Honeymoon Cabin.
“It takes passionate groups and active users to help us maintain their trails and facilities,” Hill added. “It’s a partnership.”
It is, so hikers and backpackers are as much to blame as anybody else when we lose trails and shelters and backcountry wells. We’re not organized, we don’t stage fund raisers, we don’t host annual conventions. We rarely lobby our legislators. We just strap on our backpacks and take to the trail for the weekend.
Someday that’s going to have to change before every Honeymoon Cabin in Michigan is gone for good.