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New Forest Heritage Trail, in Crawford County, to be dedicated Thursday

Join the Michigan History Center Thursday, May 23, for a dedication ceremony unveiling 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. The Forest Heritage Trail runs about 19 miles between North Higgins Lake State Park and Hartwick Pines State Park

Permitted trail usage along these segments of the Iron Belle Trail include nonmotorized bikes and pedestrians. 

The ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. at the Kirtland Community College trailhead, 4800 W. 4 Mile Road, Grayling. The trailhead is located on the north end of campus, between the main college building and I-75. A Michigan Historical Marker honoring state forest advocate Charles Garfield will also be dedicated at that time. Light refreshments will be provided.

About the project

Developed by the Michigan History Center in partnership with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Division and Central Michigan University, the project includes 19 interpretive panels that explore the area’s forest heritage. The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and the Crawford County Historical Society served as community partners and helped make the project possible.

“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.”

History along 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.

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.

Program background

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 trails work 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).

Learn more on the Michigan Heritage Trail Program website.

Michigan Historical Marker dedication

A new Michigan Historical Marker also will be unveiled at the event. The marker will honor Charles Garfield (1848-1934), who spent his life studying and advocating for trees and forests.

A graduate of the Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University), Garfield made many contributions to the protection of Michigan’s trees. He was the president of the Michigan Forestry Commission throughout its existence (1899-1909), led efforts to promote tree planting and advocated for less wasteful timbering methods.

Placing his marker in Crawford County honors part of the work he did as president of the commission. In 1903, the state Legislature directed the commission to create a state forest reserve in Crawford and Roscommon counties. This was the beginning of Michigan’s state forest system.

The Michigan Historical Marker Program began in 1955, and today there are more than 1,800 of the familiar green and gold markers throughout the state. Most signs are paid for by private sponsors, but the Garfield marker is part of a project mainly funded by the Americana Foundation to tell the stories of natural resource conservation in Michigan.

Learn more about the Michigan Historical Marker Program.

Note to editors: Accompanying photos are available below for download. Caption information follows.

  • New interpretive signs: The Forest Heritage Trail, running through Crawford County, features 19 interpretive panels that describe some of the region's history.
  • History on the trail: The Michigan Heritage Trail Program aims to connect visitors with the natural and culture heritage of a landscape. 
  • New Historical Marker: The Michigan Historical Marker Program was established in 1955. Today, more than 1,800 signs can be seen around the state.