The 508 acre Estivant Pines Wilderness Sanctuary is one of the last islands of virgin white pine forest in the midwest. For most of us, we have no clue what that looks like any longer. The forests we see today are mostly second-growth since the big logging booms of the past. In fact, if it were not for the Michigan Nature Association and caring locals, even this small island of towering pines would not exist at all.
We loaded up the jeep and took off down a bumpy, dirt road and weaved our way into the deep, dark forests of Michigan’s Keeweenaw Peninsula. The sanctuary is only a few miles out of the village of Copper Harbor, but it seems like another world completely. Well, almost. If you only had your vision to go on, you would think you had slipped 200 years back in time. You could easily envision being lost in lonely wilderness, miles from civilization. You could, if not for the incessant roar of the nearby logging operation still working to remove any tree of substance from the very borders of the Estivant Pines Sanctuary.
Even on an early Sunday morning, we drove by a huge machine cutting and crushing it’s way through the forest right next by the sanctuary entrance.
After walking the trail for a short distance, the world changes. You enter a primeval forest of dense pines, ferns and underbrush. Soon you begin to see amazingly wide tree trunks that draw your attention toward them, standing out among the much smaller trees that make up the bulk of the forest. These thick, straight trunks, many with roots stretching out in all directions like giant octopi, rise up through the canopy of younger tress creating umbrellas of pine upwards of 150 feet in the air. On the morning we explored Estivant , the tall trees rose up into a low fog and melted into the thick clouds.
The elder pines of the sanctuary are said to be over 600 years old. While many seem like they may last another 600 years, others are showing their age. Some of the largest trunks we saw that day were already lying down and slowly turning back to forest floor. I couldn’t help but wonder if these old giants would be replaced by younger pines, or if the young pines would be out competed by the faster growing trees now filling the sanctuary. Is this rare opportunity to see such magnificent old trees,truly the last chance, one left for maybe one or two more generations? One thing is sure, we cannot isolate little boxes of nature and expect the plants and animals within to continue as if we have had no impact at all.
Check out the photo gallery here or the slideshow below for more pictures from our visit to the Estivant Wilderness Sanctuary.