North Manitou Island, Pt. 3

Written July, 2009.

RETURN to part 2

Day 3
I awoke surprisingly late in the morning—perhaps 9am, and groggily broke camp after refilling my water from the lake. I set out the way I came, and soon found the main trail again. I came to the southerly fork that must lead to Stormer’s. I followed it some ways and came to a large tall-grass field that resembled the one drawn on the map. But nowhere in this tree-filled clearing was a house or its remains. Not even a spot where one would have been demolished. Only a decayed tin roof vent like you might see on top of a barn sat near the mouth of the trail, as if someone had dragged it out of the woods. Henry Stormer was a German who arrived to farm here in 1859. His son Peter returned in the 1910s and operated a logging business and sawmill here (hence the "Old Stormer Dock" marked on the map).

Image from

I left my pack at the trail and explored for a good 30 minutes, even climbing a small bare bluff to get a better view. This map was really getting on my nerves—when it said there was supposed to be ruins present, there were none to be found; when it said there were none, that's when I find some. Counting the Stormer Place as a goner I decided to continue onward, but the loop petered out and the trail became lost. I had to backtrack again all the way to the main trail.

From here I would be concentrating on covering some ground and making good time, since there was not much of interest until I made it around the very west side of the island, where Swenson’s barn still sat, and the ruins of Crescent City (basically all that remained were just the pilings to a dock that was used to export lumber harvested inland). My only concern was on staying stocked with drinking water. I did not see any creeks marked anywhere along my way, so I just hoped that the shoreline would be accessible, and not a sheer cliff. I stopped briefly at Fat Annie’s, which was just a spot on a hill where a house used to stand, before making haste to the western shoreline.

Ruchhoft explains that "Fat Annie" Buckner was a large woman who lived here. Her legend, though said to be nothing more than a tall tale, goes that there used to be a brothel on this spot back in Crescent City's heyday as a lumber port, which lumberjacks would frequent. Ruchhoft astutely points out that if such a brothel existed, it sat about five miles outside Crescent City, and that such a hike "might have cooled their sexual appetites a bit." Perhaps he has never known what it's like being without the company of a woman for an extended period of time?

Upon descending a steep hill I came out of the woods from the area labelled as the "Cat Hole" (whatever that is), and saw out across a great distance of blue waters. It was a bit of consolation to find out that Ruchhoft couldn't figure out why the Cat Hole was called that either. His book says that this spot is near the old Fredrickson homestead, one of the earliest white settlers on the island, about whom almost nothing is known, because none of the island inhabitants he interviewed for the book could remember back far enough to a time when that family still lived on North Manitou. Supposedly they bought their land in the 1830s, and the house was abandoned before 1900. Eerily enough, it was well on its way to being buried by the shifting sand dunes at that time, as one islander recalled being able to walk on its roof back then because it was at the same level as the ground. Today the Fredrickson house is completely buried, probably perfectly preserved in the hot sand like an Egyptian tomb, awaiting a day when the wandering dunes will again reveal it at some distant future date. Strange as it may sound, this is not the only incidence of dunes burying buildings in Michigan—an entire ghost town is said to lie beneath the dunes near Saugatuck.

At the horizon a couple miles away I could see the profile of South Manitou Island:

At its far left edge I could see the brilliant white spike of the 65-foot tall South Manitou Island Lighthouse, which has been decommissioned since 1958:

After taking a breather I began my trek up the shoreline toward the Johnson Place. The sun was hot today and I was glad to be in the shade of the forest, though it was fairly bland as a result of having been logged out once, and denuded by the herd of deer that had been kept here during the island’s days as a hunting preserve. The pine was gone, replaced by maples and oaks, though the few hemlocks had been spared due to their poorer wood.

Johnson’s was yet another empty field, though this is not to say that I would find nothing, had I looked in these fields…the visitor center back in the “Village” was full of random artifacts that hikers had turned up over the years, such as decroded farm implements, Winchester rifles, and axe heads. There even used to be a narrow-gauge railroad on the island once upon a time, for hauling timber to the docks for shipping.

So far I was making good time, and decided to forge ahead to Swenson’s where I would break for lunch. A couple more hours of walking brought me to the Swenson place. It was marked by the emasculated stub of (what I presume to be) this former radio tower:

Once again, not marked on the map.

I followed the tiny trail from the main one onto old man Swenson’s farm and soon saw his barn looming through the overgrowth beyond some random wooden ruins.

This was an old barn, obviously preserved by its well maintained metal roof. Though this acreage was farmed by a man named Swenson, the barn itself was not built until well after he died.

I snuck inside, contrary to the warnings of the ranger, and snapped a few shots:

By all the footprints inside, I found that nobody else obeyed the rules either.

Continuing past the barn toward the cliffs overlooking the lake, I was able to spot the pilings of the Crescent dock sticking out of the water just to the north:

It was here in 1907 that this dock was built to serve the shipping needs of White's Mill and the booming lumber industry on North Manitou Island under the Smith & Hull Lumber Co. The dock was 600 feet long and could handle the big lake freighters. Crescent City was the largest town that ever existed on the island, with a population of 200, but when Smith & Hull ceased operations here in 1917, the town evaporated too. The only traces left are this dock, and a pile of splintered, rotted wood in the weeds I had passed not far from Swenson's barn, which was the old Crescent City barbershop. I didn't take a picture of it, but I guess I should have.

I had come five and a half miles overland since breaking camp this morning at Bournique's. The wind on this side of the island was much stouter than on the eastern side, and the waves were rolling in nicely. I was actually a bit chilly after sitting still for awhile, but I still had to climb down and refill my water again, which I tried with my boots on this time. This resulted in me getting a soaker and having to air-dry my socks and boots on shore before being able to continue hiking. I did this by draping them over a piece of driftwood on the beach…the heavier winds here on the western side of the island did a quick job of drying them. I finished off my jerky and trail nuts in the meantime. Some more foundations were to be found near Swenson’s barn:

Now well-rested, stocked on water, and fed, I shouldered my pack for a push into the higher elevations on the north sector of the island. My next objective would be “The Pot Holes,” a unique natural feature of the dunes that I would have to locate another unmaintained trail to access. From here the hike would be over the former grade of the narrow-gauge railbed, leading up to the highest point of the island. At times I actually found iron rails poking up from the ground along the trail. I was beginning to feel tired again, and had to stop often, but the mosquitoes were ganging up on me again too. Yet again the map burned me; I never found the side trail that led to the “Pot Holes,” and decided to just keep going until I got to Stormer Camp, where I would break again.

I was very sore and tired upon reaching the field marking Stormer Camp; and wanted to rest but the mosquitoes would not let me. I was about to keep moving without resting when I saw something through the trees—some wreckage…not structural, but vehicular:

Just inside the edge of the trees was this pile of scrap, part of it belonging to a narrow gauge rail system, part being automotive. More lay deeper in the woods:

The graphics on this truck door indicated a Detroit city business, but that address actually falls on the north side of 8 Mile Road, in Southfield. A landscaping company seems to reside there now.

These were mostly detached truck cabs to old ‘40s or ‘50s era lumber trucks, with company names painted on them from areas all over Michigan but mostly Detroit area. I soon was chased from the area by the swarms of angry mosquitoes going for my jugular. This was unhappy since I had not had a real rest in some time, and by the looks of my map and the terrain ahead, the mosquito situation would only worsen until I reached my new objective, the Maleski’s. I saw no reason why I could not push myself a little harder and make it there to set up camp for the night. In fact I hoped to get as close to the “Village” as possible today so that when I woke up I would run less of a risk of showing up late at the docks the next morning. However, I would have to forge through a wetland in the next half mile, which meant more mosquitoes.

Luckily it was not that bad, but I was beginning to become fatigued. By the time I reached Paul Maleski’s Place, I had to sit down in the clearing for some time. My feet were finally beginning to feel the penalty of hiking in work boots, and my pack frame had been chafing me in the back in a way that it never had before, adding to my general soreness. I quaffed some water before continuing onward to John Maleski’s near the shore. As I left the clearing, I couldn’t help but notice that the map had lied again—it showed a small black square where a ruined building should have been, but there was nothing. There was however a large cairn of field stones just inside the re-entry to the woods, probably accumulated from when Adam Maleski originally cleared this field.

Adam Maleski arrived in 1875 from Oswicim (Auschwitz), Prussia (now Poland), and worked for a wood merchant before earning enough to buy his own plot. He farmed, fished, and raised a family that lasted on North Manitou for three generations—until 1955—making them the longest lasting family name and year-round residents in the island’s history. Paul Maleski Sr. was the last independent farmer on North Manitou, and was also the postman. He grazed cattle for Chicago meat markets that, under a long-standing agreement were allowed to free range on the island. But when big-time Chicago fruit growers began gobbling up acreage, the free range agreement the Maleskis had operated under for generations was terminated, which put him in financial hardship, though it was argued that this was done because the roaming herds had become a nuisance on the island.

Perhaps the most historically significant resident ever to live on North Manitou was William R. Angell, the president of Continental Motors. Mr. Angell and his party first arrived by air in 1926 aboard a Ford Tri-motor airplane. In fact the large cleared area near the Village was originally an airfield designed to accommodate the large airplanes that brought the rich executives in those days. Angell began buying up as much island acreage as he could get his hands on, with an eye toward preventing further development or exploitation, and turning it into a nature preserve. The only thing was that he was not doing so necessarily for the public good, but as Ruchhoft put it, "more as a personal Valhalla" for himself. By the 1930s he owned over 13,000 of the island's 14,753 acres.

Angell was the one who brought the deer here to breed for hunting parties, that he and his fellow Detroit and Muskegon executive buddies would go on here. He turned North Manitou into one of the largest deer preserves in the nation at the time. The only problem was that the herd bred out of control and completely denuded the island of most low foliage, altering the character of the forest and resulting in hundreds of deer deaths from starvation—it became so severe that it was feared the entire herd would perish.

Angell also sought to prevent access the island to all except invited guests, and even for the legitimate long-time island residents he made it as difficult as possible to have access before offering to buy them all out. At that time in history, about 50 people still wintered on the island. As a head of the Manitou Island Association Angell also made it illegal for anyone else to shoot his deer, even the farmers whose crops they were devouring.  Likewise, any dog seen chasing the deer would be shot. It was almost as if North Manitou had been plunged into a feudal system where no lowly peasant shall hunt on King Angell's lands.

This was the last straw for poor old Paul Maleski, who was still trying to make a go of farming since the fruit growers had hampered his ability to raise cattle. He built a fence to keep the deer out of what little crop he was still attempting—at this point it was basically just for his own consumption. But when the deer jumped over the fence and ran rampant eating it all up, the 93-year-old Maleski, a financially ruined and bitter man who Ruchhoft reports had become ill of health as well, finally threw in the towel and left the island in 1940. The 100-year era of independent farming on North Manitou Island had officially come to an end.

In 1984 after the Department of the Interior bought the island, they conducted controlled hunts meant to bring down the herd numbers to a manageable level. Today the Michigan DNR still issues deer permits for the island despite its being a national park. Though William Angell's control of and influence on the island was of questionable motivation, resulted in bovine mayhem, and won him no friends among native islanders, it is nevertheless due to him that it remained protected from over-development and was allowed to return to a more natural state—even if it was not its original state—and played a direct part in its eventually being designated as a public asset by the NPS. Despite his bungled attempt at maintaining a deer herd, he was actually a decent steward of the trees on the island, which had mostly grown back thanks to the end of large-scale logging decades before.

Because of changing trust laws in 1949, and because his hunt club was no longer as profitable as it once was, Ruchhoft says that Angell reorganized his North Manitou operations as the non-profit Angell Foundation for more educational and philanthropic aims. This was never quite realized unfortunately, as a few months later he was run over by a bus while crossing a street in downtown Detroit, and killed. The trustees of the Angell Foundation however carried on his goals, and also later fought for the preservation of the Sleeping Bear Dunes as a National Lakeshore by delivering a statement before Congress in 1970.

Running North Manitou Island proved at first to be a shaky proposition for the foundation, and they considered selling it outright to another interest. None of the proposals that came in were in line with William Angell's philosophies however, so the idea was dropped. Some of the uses that were proposed included turning the island into private corporate vacation resorts, a Catholic retreat, setting up oil drilling rigs, and turning it into a federal prison. Since the trustees of the foundation were trying to make the island profitable to benefit its charitable aims, they settled on going back to the "hunter's paradise" idea, and more wild game were released on the island, including turkey, partridge, guinea hens, pheasants, ducks, trout, and more deer, but ironically the only introduced species that did well was the raccoon. Guides were hired for the canned hunts, and hunters were "guaranteed that they would shoot a deer." Eventually the Angell Foundation tired of trying to manage the island profitably and wished to concentrate on their other charitable involvements. Though they fought for the establishment of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the inclusion of North Manitou Island in it, the sale of the island to the feds was a long time in coming, mostly because they thought the government's offers for the land were too low. They finally settled in 1983, at a price of $12.2 million. North Manitou became a national park, and an asset held in the public trust, as opposed to private interests.

My last painful mile or so was down switchbacks of a very steep incline on the side of a forested dune, leading down to the lake level. The bottom of the cliff let out of the trees directly onto a beach covered in smooth stones. I had reached the north shore of the island. This is where my map indicated “John Maleski’s” to be, however I did not see anything to that effect, really. I was exhausted…I immediately found a driftwood log to set myself down on to rest and eat, and had half a mind to set up camp right here on the beach. This is in fact what I did, though it is against the “300 feet away from any water source” rule, and I was too lazy to hang my backpack. I filled my water up then sat down to chow down on that giant hunk of bread some more. I also finished off the last of the hard salami and the last tomato. The homemade jerky had already been consumed…damn was that stuff good.

I sat on the shore staring off into space for a good couple hours, just reveling in the absolutely gorgeous weather as the waves calmly lapped the shore. As I gazed out north across the waters, I was able to fully see the dune cliffs of South Fox Island, over 20 miles away:

It is another “wilderness.” In 2009 when I wrote this it had only a small landing strip and I believe a remote weather station, but no docks, no harbor, and no ferry service. However, some other rich-ass executive has built a residence there, and there is a tribal burial ground, but overall South Fox remains even more untouched and remote than the Manitous. There is also the decommissioned lighthouse:

Since I had been sitting here it had begun to threaten weather, and I could see rain squalls out to sea; one had barely missed me to the north, though I could see South Fox getting hit. It stayed pretty nice until darkness began to fall. I knew that I would be getting rained on tonight, so I set up camp accordingly, rolling out my sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and wool blanket on the stony beach with my raingear close at hand. Once again Drew’s poncho to the rescue. My backpack I left leaning against the driftwood log, and covered it in a trash bag. I laid on my sleeping bag much in the same quieted manner in which I had leaned against the log for so long. Darkness fell and I passed out.

About midnight I awoke to raindrops on my face. I reached for the poncho and dragged it over my sleeping bag, using the hood part to cover my boots, which were set directly next to me. I fell back to sleep. I still got somewhat wet, but I did not care. I was not too hot, not too cold, and the sea breeze was most excellent. At times I would notice the rain had stopped, so I threw the poncho back off my face. When the rain started back up I was awakened and pulled it back over me. I was in a supremely Zen mood. It occurred to me that the large canine footprints I had been seeing in the sand earlier today were from coyotes. They must have gotten stranded on the island when the lake ice broke up in spring.

When you’re in the wilderness and you wake up like this in the middle of the night and find yourself completely alone, completely isolated and perched in such a sublimely beautiful—though unmistakably austere—environment, it puts things in perspective so much more easily and suddenly and clearly than when you’re awake during normal hours. The utter remoteness of where you are becomes so striking and immediate that it is almost terrifying. Edgar Allen Poe wrote about these kinds of human experience in stories like The Man of The Crowd. However my mind had become so clear as a result of being out here alone for two days that I had no trouble sleeping. It was unfortunate that I would have to cut this trip short.

CLICK for part four

Sources cited in this series:
Exploring North Manitou, South Manitou, High and Garden Islands of the Lake Michigan Archipelago, by Robert H. Ruchhoft
Great Lakes Lighthouses Encyclopedia, by Larry & Patricia Wright
The Lower Peninsula of Michigan, An Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites, HAER, 1976
Geological Survey of Michigan Lower Peninsula 1900-1903, Vol. III Pt. III, Marl and its Application to the Manufacture of Portland Cement, by David J. Hale, et al

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the article. My grandparents worked at the Stormer Camp 1912-1914 or whenever it was dismantled


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