As any Michigander will tell you, we love the outdoors. The appreciation for our lakes and forests is evident in both the Upper and Lower Peninsula’s. Though, if it wasn’t for a woman named Karen Hartwick breaking the boundaries of her time, the biggest state park in the Lower Peninsula wouldn’t exist. After 100 years, Karen is being inducted to the Michigan Environmental Hall of Fame for her efforts that led to the preservation of Hartwick Pines State Park. 

Karen Hartwick 

Karen Hartwick was the daughter of one of Michigan’s leading loggers in the late 1800s. As a logging heiress, she grew up and saw how quickly Michigan’s ancient forests were being leveled. Millions of acres of untouched white pines, red pines, hemlocks and more were hacked down between 1850 and 1900. While this quickly made Michigan the number one supplier of virgin timber, today’s remaining forests are approximately 15-20% of what they used to be.  

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After her husbands unexpected death, she decided rather than a ceremony to remember him, she would find something for them both where his memory could live on. Nine years after his death, Karen was able to invest in an 8,000-acre parcel of land that her father was harvesting from. For the time period she grew up in, it wasn’t common for a woman to have controlling power over so much land, so when she donated it to preserve the towering trees, she immensely disrupted the growing logging business of that time. This act for remembrance extended beyond her hope for her and her husband when it became a state park that houses the rare ‘gentle giant’ virgin timber and more. 

Hartwick Pines State Park 

Thanks to her conservation efforts, Hartwick Pines State Park is Michigan’s Lower Peninsula’s largest state park. However, before it could become Michigan’s newest state park, Karen had three conditions that needed to be abided by before she ‘gifted’ the land to the state. 

  1. To ensure that the forests within the parcel remained protected from external and internal disturbances. 
  1. A road is constructed from Highway 27 to the forest, which allows people to visit these woodlands without disturbing the preserved land. 
  1. A building of some sort would be constructed on the land for the purpose of memorializing her late husband, Edward Hartwick. 

Willing to meet the demands, and eager to solidify the relationship for the future safety and protection of these woods, the state constructed an additional two log cabins by the memorial building. These buildings would soon become the Hartwick Pines Logging Museum. Today, the park consists of 9.672 acres of northern hardwood trees, but only 86 are ‘old-growth’. Camping and hiking in the park is allowed, and encouraged. To learn more about the park, services, and its history, visit their website to see the beauty that is these rare pristine ‘gentle giant’ virgin pine trees. 

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