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The Forest Heritage Trail: 19 Miles and 19 Interpretive Panels

The Forest Heritage Trail, running through Crawford County, features 19 interpretive panels that describe some of the region’s history.

You can never have enough trails in Michigan, especially those that focus on history.

In May, the Michigan History Center unveiled the Forest Heritage Trail, a new interpretive project that capitalizes on the area’s forest heritage and stories along segments of the Iron Belle Trail and the Grayling Bicycle Turnpike.

Developed in partnership with the DNR Parks and Recreation Division and Central Michigan University, the Forest Heritage Trail includes 19 interpretive panels that explore the area’s forest heritage. The trail extends 19 miles between North Higgins Lake State Park and Hartwick Pines State Park.  Permitted trail usage along these segments of the Iron Belle Trail includes nonmotorized bikes and pedestrians.

“Crawford County has one of the richest collections of forest heritage sites in the state,” said Dan Spegel, heritage trail coordinator for the Michigan History Center. “The trail connects two of them: Hartwick Pines State Park, with its visitor center, logging camp and one of Michigan’s last stands of old-growth pine trees, and North Higgins Lake State Park, site of the first state tree nursery and the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum.”

On the Trail

The forested landscape along the trail has been home to the Anishinaabe for thousands of years. Their many uses of the forest are part of the stories told in the interpretive panels.

CCC Museum, located at North Higgins Lake State Park, is at the start of the Forest Heritage Trail.

Other stopping points include the W.J. Beal Plantation and the location of a 2008 forest fire. Additional interpretive signs along the trail describe the importance of the Au Sable River, how logging helped create the town of Grayling, and evolving forest management.

Trail users will also encounter the stories of people like philanthropist Karen Hartwick, who donated the 8,000-acre parcel that became Hartwick Pines State Park, a northern Michigan conservation officer named Reuben Babbitt, and Fred Bear, an archery innovator whose business called Grayling home in the mid-20th century.

Michigan’s Heritage Trails

The Michigan History Center began work on heritage trails in 2015, creating interpretive signage along historically significant trails to connect people with both the natural and cultural heritage of a landscape.

The pilot project, the Kal-Haven Heritage Trail in southwest Michigan, was dedicated in summer 2019. Others include the Haywire Grade Trail (in Alger and Schoolcraft counties), Iron Ore Heritage Trail (in Marquette County), and Lakelands Trail State Park (in Ingham and Livingston counties).

To learn more about the Michigan Heritage Trail Program Click Here.

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