In 1971 Lauri Leskinen published an article in the Houghton Daily Mining Gazette called The Last Stand. It addressed protecting “one of the last stands of virgin pines in the Midwest” from the lumber industry. This article paired with photographs of loggers cutting down the pines taken by Charles Eshback, started a movement known as “Save the Pines” and by August 17, 1973 the Michigan Nature Association received a copy of the deed to the area where these massive trees resided. So began the sanctuary.
The area is 508 acres and contains trees that range in height from 130 to 150 feet. Some of the fallen leaves were at least double the size of my hand. Even the ferns seemed to be gigantic compared to other forests we have visited. We found some fallen trees and used Brisco as a size model to give a better idea of just how massive these trees are.
There are three possible hiking trail options. The Cathedral Grove Loop, the Memorial Grove Loop or a combined Cathedral and Memorial Grove Loop. We took the longest route, visiting both the Cathedral Grove and Memorial Grove Loops. It was completely worth it. The Cathedral Grove Loop is a one-mile loop that contains the biggest and oldest pines in the sanctuary. Some of them measure over four feet in diameter! Many of these trees are over the age of 500.
The Memorial Grove Loop is a 1.2-mile loop and is the main trail that you begin on from the parking area. It takes you through a large grove of younger pines, ranging in 200 years old. These pines were seeded after a hot fire cleared the competing hardwoods. Taking both loops is about a 2.5-mile hike and takes you rugged terrain. Although the trail isn’t easy, it isn’t extremely difficult either. As long as you’re in physical condition for a long walk, you should be able to handle either loop fine.
I was very, very happy that we were able to make it to the Estivant Pines. It was a great experience and fun to imagine how the entire U.P used to be covered with such massive trees. I highly recommend you make time for this stop if you ever visit the Keweenaw.
If you’re interested in more information about the sanctuary or sanctuaries across Michigan, visit the Michigan Nature Association’s website.