Lanterns light winter nights at this Michigan state park

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Selfie after a night hike through the forest. Image: Hillary Pine

By Taylor Baker

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. They put on their snowshoes and head into the forest,” Pine said.

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 hundred feet tall. These trees are remnants of the white pine logging era of Michigan, during which most trees were cut down. These old growth ones were left in the 1890s and still stand today, Pine said.

“The historic landscape makes it much easier to interpret the white pine logging era,” Pine said. You can talk about the life of a lumberjack 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, taking place at night during the new moon. There are four dates for the hike, one each month from December to March: December 28, January 25, February 22 and March 21. These are first come first served, starting at 6:30 p.m. each day 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 this year. 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.

Guided snowshoe hike during the day through the old growth forest. Image: Hillary Pine

The hike is for beginners to avid snowshoers, Pine said. Visitors just need to have a recreational passport to enter the park. Recreational passports are $16 and allow people access into any state park/harbor across the state. More information about winter programming at Hartwick Pines can be found on the park’s events page.

Even people who have often visited the park in the summer will gain a different appreciation for it in the winter.

“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 state park in Michigan that has 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 with 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.”

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