Posts Tagged ‘Michigan’

A significant amount of Michigan’s public forests today owe their existence to the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s. Known as “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” CCC enrollees played a crucial role in reforestation efforts throughout the country during the Great Depression, and nowhere was the impact of their work more significant than in Michigan. Between 1933 and 1942, CCC workers in Michigan planted 485 million trees, more than were planted in any other state.

These plantings by the CCC took place on both state and federal land, but much of it occurred on the five national forests that existed in Michigan by the late 1930s: the Ottawa, Hiawatha and Marquette forests in the Upper Peninsula, and the Manistee and Huron forests to the south (the Marquette was later consolidated with the Hiawatha in 1962, and the two forests in the Lower Peninsula were combined administratively in 1955 to form the Huron-Manistee).

1941 Map of Michigan's National Forests

Michigan’s National Forests in 1941.

Michigan’s massive reforestation effort during the 1930s would not have been possible without the work of tree nurseries administered by the Forest Service. Most of the state’s planting stock was provided by four USFS nursery operations: the Beal Nursery in East Tawas, the Wyman Nursery in Manistique, the Chittenden Nursery in Wellston, and the Toumey Nursery in Watersmeet. By 1941 these nurseries were providing an average of 97 million seedlings each year for Michigan’s national forests.

The visual history of these nurseries is documented in four new image galleries recently added to the FHS website. With more than 150 historic photos, the galleries showcase the important work behind the reforestation efforts which transformed Michigan’s landscape. Continue below to view the photos in each gallery and to learn more about the history of each nursery.

Joseph Sparks, official artist for Huron National Forest, sketching CCC boys at Beal Nursery

Joseph Sparks, official artist for Huron National Forest, sketching CCC boys at Beal Nursery, 1934.


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Recently, FHS member Joseph Jones moved from the forested land of Michigan to the treeless wonderland that is western North Dakota. We here at the Peeling Back the Bark HQ were fascinated by his description of a culture that values fireplaces where there is no apparent local supply of wood and asked him to share his thoughts on the matter.

Life for newly-minted Ph.D.s is hard these days. Jobs are scarce and family members don’t understand how someone with so much education can have such a hard time finding a job to pay the bills. After all, doesn’t a scholar sit around all day in a tweed jacket smoking a pipe and expounding on philosophical observations that no one else not attired in tweed cares about? Being in my last year as a visiting assistant professor at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, made me acutely aware of the disconnect between the popular image and the harsh reality for scholars on the job market.

Needless to say, given the conditions, I was thrilled to land the position of research historian for the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University in Dickinson, North Dakota. The Center has launched an initiative to digitize and catalog the entire collection of Theodore Roosevelt papers into an online digital library. I am responsible for doing research and writing, providing historical context, and making educational contacts for the Center.

Theodore Roosevelt Center staff on retreat at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (l-r) Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor, Krystal Thomas, Sharon Kilzer, Grant Carlson, Joe Camisa, and Joseph Jones. (Courtesy of Clay Jenkinson)

Amidst the excitement of a new job was the challenge of relocating from Michigan to North Dakota in January with a four-month old and a cat. My wife squeezed her mother and our baby Rose into her car, while I loaded Dorie the cat into mine for the three-day drive in single-digit conditions. For a forest historian, there were many topics to discuss with Dorie. I bade goodbye to the familiar forests that line I-196 south of Holland (Mich.). I pondered urban forestry with numerous glimpses of the Cook County Forest Preserve (Ill.). I mused on when I’d have a chance to wander the grounds at the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center when entering Sauk County (Wisc.). Along I-94 northwest of Saint Cloud (Minn.), I skirted the edge of the prairie on my left with recreational lakes and forests to the right.

Yet all of these sites were familiar to me, a native of the Great Lakes region. Even though I had never been to western Minnesota, it felt familiar. The forest surrounding a rest area near Fergus Falls was a point of comfort despite temps colder than those usually found in northern Michigan. But the change was abrupt once we crossed the Red River into North Dakota. The contours of the land flattened and the forests vanished. The wide prairie opened before me and I learned that “wind-swept” is not just a literary adjective. Yet, what stood out on the eastern North Dakota landscape were the shelterbelts. The philosophical rise and fall of shelterbelts as an ecological and political concept were visible in their current condition. While the vertical and spatial arrangements envisioned by Raphael Zon were there, he would have been sorely disappointed in their maintenance. They appeared neglected and overgrown. The old growth was collapsing in on itself, while death had opened sections of the belts to open air. I am sure that Zon, America’s leading experiment station researcher in the first half of the twentieth century, would have wanted to investigate where his proposal had gone wrong and if the project was worth rehabilitation.

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