Mason Tract Pathway
What is officially the George Mason River Retreat is to most people who visit this special area simply the Mason Tract. Both titles refer to auto magnate George Mason who loved to fish the South Branch of the Au Sable River.
Mason made his fortune in the automobile industry and, in the 1930s, purchased a large tract of land that borders the South Branch from another auto magnate, Clifford Durant of the Durant Motor Car Company. It became his personal wilderness, an area of undeveloped woods and clear water where he would go with a flyrod in hand to escape the daily routines of Detroit. Mason loved his river so much that upon his death in 1954 he bequeathed it to the state of Michigan on three conditions. The land had to be a permanent game reserve, never to be sold; camping was to be banned; and the state had to accept the gift within two years of Mason's death. The conservationist's plan was to preserve his wooded retreat by opening it up to everyone who loved the Northwoods, and it was Michigan’s responsibility to maintain it that way.
The original gift of 1,500 acres has since been enlarged to 4,493 acres but its crowning jewel is still the South Branch that spits the Mason Tract in half, offering dly anglers access 11 miles of some of the finest trout waters in the state. These undeveloped qualities of the river here that is so attractive to anglers and the fact that mountain biking has been banned on the pathway have made the area popular with hikers as well.
Paralleling the west bank of the river is the Mason Tract Pathway, an 11.5-mile network of trails from M-72 to Chase Bridge on Chase Bridge Road (also known as County Road 519). The river moves in and out of view along this trek, as the trail works its way across the bluffs the South Branch flows between. For many, beginning at one road and ending at the other presents a transportation problem.
Beyond backtracking the entire way or using two vehicles, the only other solution is to walk only a portion of the pathway. The best section of trail for this choice is the northern half, where two small loops have been set up. The Campground Loop is 2.7 miles from the M-72 trailhead, around the small loop around Canoe Harbor, and back. The Thayer Creek Loop is an 8.7-mile, round-trip hike from M-72 and much more interesting as you spend a good portion of the time skirting bluffs along the river.
The description below is the Mason Tract Pathway in its entirety with the longest portion of each loop. This makes for a 9.6-mile hike that, for most people, necessitates spotting a car at one end. Find a friend, this is an excellent trek that takes most hikers four to five hours.
Tackle the trail in the morning or early evening after canoeists have departed for the day, and you can sit quietly on the banks and watch trout rise to feed on insects. Or even better watch an angler cast a floating line and with such precision that he or she is able to drop a delicate fly in the smallest pockets of water between deadheads and sweepers. If a trout rises and takes that bait of feathers and thread you’ll understand why Mason loved this river so much.
|Difficulty - Moderate|