Hartwick Pines State Park is a public recreation area covering more than 1,000 acres (400ha) on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan in Crawford County near Grayling and Interstate 75 in Northern Michigan. The state park features old-growth white pines among red pine and hemlock stands. It is noted for its Christmas tree farm, or “nursery,” which produces about 200,000 trees annually.
The parcel given to the Friends of Hartwick Pines was designated as a nature preserve; no development will be allowed within the park itself, although surrounding private lands are fair game. There are plans to construct a road through the middle of the park, although no other infrastructure. No admission fee is planned for the park. The park offers over 7 miles (11km) of hiking trails, including a 3/4 mile trail to Pine Mountain. The park also contains approximately 20 miles (32km) of logging roads, 14 miles (23km) of hiking trails, and 10 miles (16km) of ski trails. Hunting is permitted during hunting season in Wisconsin, where a lodge overlooking the lake can be rented to accommodate overnight visitors.
The park is located adjacent to Interstate 75 between exits 38 and 39. Exits 38 and 39 both have ramps leading directly onto I-75, allowing access for trucks heading eastbound on the interstate to enter the park without having to slow down. This creates problems for westbound traffic, since there is no shoulder wide enough to allow passing vehicles to safely enter the park. To address this issue, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is planning on widening the entrance to the park to add additional lanes for turning cars, as well as constructing a left turn lane from north of exit 39 to the park entrance. As part of the project, MDOT will relocate some existing bridges. These changes should take place sometime between 2022 and 2026.
In 2021, MDOT completed a study on improving accessibility at eight sites across the Lower Peninsula, including three in the Upper Peninsula. Of these three, two sites in the western U.P., one just south of Interstate 75, were recommended for further study. That site is the one currently under consideration for change in the above plan. An alternative suggested in the report, increasing parking capacity at the park, was not adopted. According to the report, “The current parking lot is full much of the year, and spaces are reserved for large groups like church youth group, school classes, and athletic teams.” Another problem addressed in the report was the need to improve sight lines for drivers entering the park from the expressway.
Although there was consensus on the need to do something, there was little agreement on how best to proceed. Some ideas proposed in the report included installing rumble strips, expanding the width of the shoulders of the roadway, providing pedestrian refuges, installing bike paths, establishing a truck route, and even building a bridge or tunnel. Ultimately, however, the upper management of MDOT decided against any major improvements in the park, choosing instead to concentrate on making the park safer for pedestrians using it as a short cut across the freeway. They concluded that the $8 million price tag for the entire project was simply too high, especially since funding was already allocated for several years’ worth of maintenance work at a cost of nearly $2 million per year.
Thus, the only significant improvement planned for the next decade is the addition of a third entry point to the park, at Exit 37. Plans call for construction of a 2,500 foot long bridge carrying right-of-way protected by a 300 foot tall bridge tower. Once complete, the new ramp will provide direct access to I-75, alleviating some of the bottlenecks caused by the narrow shoulders of the present ramp. While this may seem counterintuitive, a wider entrance to the park means increased exposure to fatal accidents involving speeding motorists.
In 1895, Conrad Hambrecht settled along what is now the park with his family and began to carve out a small piece of land that would one day become known as Hambrecht’s Forest. At first the family farmed potatoes and wheat, then later turned their attention to raising Christmas trees. By 1906 they had cleared enough land around the small pond at the center of their future property to begin planting seedlings. Over time, the Hambrechts expanded their operation to include an apple orchard, dairy herd, sawmill, and flour mill. When the forests were gone, they began stripping the land of all its valuable timber, leaving behind a wasteland of stumps and brush. To make matters worse, a great fire burned thousands of acres in 1910, sparing some of the forest but burning almost everywhere else.
After this setback, the family decided to diversify. A second attempt to grow Christmas trees failed when a severe drought struck northern lower Michigan in 1920. Undeterred, the family continued to expand their nursery, adding a greenhouse in 1925. However, by 1930 the Great Depression forced them to seek relief by selling off pieces of their land. In 1934, two brothers bought 520 acres from the Hambrecht family. One year later, they sold it to the state of Michigan for half the appraised value, who established the new park named after the region’s most prominent feature, the “Pine Mountain.” About 400 acres remain privately owned by the Sallin Hansen family, whose name is attached to the nearby highway intersection and campground. On November 11, 2009, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm announced that she was giving away 560 acres of state parks to community organizations.
Other activities available include:
- cross-country skiing
- bird watching
The park has many different wild animal species, such as:
- black bears
- river otters
- Canadian lynx
- snowshoe hares
Birds observed at the park included:
- bald eagles
- blue jays
- Canada geese
- snowy egrets
- double-crested cormorants
- trumpeter swans
- herring gulls
- cow birds
- pileated woodpeckers
- barred owl
- screech owls
- wild turkeys
- ruffed grouse
- common loon
- spotted sandpiper
- American white pelican
- trumpeter swan
Mammals observed at the park included: