By: Taylor Baker
Capital News Service
LANSING — Winter may leave a chill, but the Hartwick Pines winter program schedule aims to warm people up to the idea of being outside.
Summer at the Michigan state park, located in Grayling, is the busiest time. But while numbers drop during the winter, people who ski and snowshoe are avid visitors, said Hillary Pine, the park historian.
The next time you find yourself traveling on I-75 north past Grayling, look for the “Hartwick Pines Road M-93″ sign and visit a bit of Michigan history set in winter.
“A lot of visitors take advantage of the opportunity to get up to the big old growth trees,” Pine said. “They put on their snowshoes and head into the forest.”
Hartwick Pines has 49 acres of old growth pines, a grove from which the park gets its name. Some of the trees are hundreds of years old and tower a couple of hundred feet tall.
These trees are remnants of Michigan’s white pine logging era when most trees were cut down, Pine said. But these old growth ones were left in the 1890s and still stand.
“The historic landscape makes it much easier to interpret the white pine logging era,” Pine said. You can talk about the life of a lumber jack while standing in the old growth forest and seeing what they would have seen.
A new event this year is a lantern-lit new moon snowshoe hike, Pine said. Already more than 7,000 people have indicated on Facebook an interest in the hike that will take visitors around the mile-long old growth trail.
It takes place at night during the new moon. There are four dates for the hike, one each month on a Saturday from December to March: December 28th, January 25th, February 22nd and March 21st. These are first-come, first-served, starting at 6:30 p.m. and ending at 9 p.m. when the visitor center closes. Visitors can borrow some snowshoes from the park to use, but they are limited.
The New Moon hikes are new . Previously the park offered a full moon hike. The new moon hikes mark the start of a brand-new moon phase, which is very dull and not bright. The full moon is the brightest moon phase.
“Kerosene lanterns and the dark will give visitors the opportunity to see the forest and sky in a totally new way!” Pine said.
The hike is for beginners to avid snowshoers, Pine said. Visitors need to have a recreational passport to enter the park. The $16 passports allow vehicles access to any state park or recreation area. More information about Hartwick Pine’s winter programs can be found on its events page.
Even people who have often visited the park in the summer will gain a different appreciation for it in the winter, according to Pine.
“In the winter, Hartwick Pines transforms into a majestic, ethereal world where snow, ice, wildlife and trees older than our nation coexist in a place that YOU can explore on foot, snowshoe, or ski,” Pine said.
Planning collaborative programs can be challenging, but throw in Michigan weather, and things can quickly change, she said.
“We always have to be mindful of weather. Severe cold or blizzard conditions can result in cancelled programs.” Pine said.
Hartwick Pines is the only Michigan state park with both a park historian, and a park interpreter. The two work together to create programs for the public that can be for any age group.
“I never expected to be doing what I am doing,” said Craig Kasmer, the park interpreter. “I went to school to be a forester – I assumed marking timber for the state, federal government or industry.”
But at Hartwick he gets to teach visitors about forest health issues and timber harvesting, he said.
The rich history of Michigan’s logging era in the late 1800s, and now the old growth forest that is left, blends a unique history and a unique natural resource.
It’s a good combination, Pine said. “I work very closely with the park interpreter, especially in the winter when we put on programs together. We are very much a team and, for me at least, our close partnership has resulted in professional growth and an in-depth understanding of a different field, which wouldn’t have occurred in a different work environment.”