Big Eric’s Bridge – Huron River – Baraga County
A Point North
By Mikel B. Classen
Over the weekend I traveled over to L’anse to sell and sign books at the American Legion hall. While I was in the neighborhood I decided to drive north towards Aura and Skanee. My ultimate objective was to reach a wondrous remote place known as Big Eric’s Bridge.
This is an area I rarely get into, but this region of north country leads into the west end of the Huron Mountains. Between here and Big Bay is Michigan’s wilderness at its best. The problem with it is much of it is owned the legendary Huron Mountain Club. But what isn’t owned by them is worth the effort to experience what you can.
Big Eric’s Bridge crosses the wild Huron River which contains 37 species of fish. Fishing here is amazing with trout the primary fish in the river. This is an anglers paradise and a pristine river.
As I pull in and hear the water rushing in the river, I feel like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. Maybe Big Eric took some of the load. He seemed like that kind of guy. Yes, the bridge is named after a real person. There are some local stories but overall, not much is known about the guy.
Big Eric Erickson
Big Eric Erickson was a large Swede from Skanee, his birthplace and date are unknown. He spoke with a thick Swedish accent that could sometimes be the butt of a joke. Erickson took it well. Logging for the Ford Motor Company, Big Eric earned the moniker of Paul Bunyan of Baraga County. Ford had a factory in Pequaming that manufactured parts for the fast growing automobile industry. Ford also had a sawmill in L’anse where Big Eric sold most of his wood.
Eric Erickson was over 6 feet tall and an even tempered individual. He was well liked and had an interesting way of looking at the world. In Richard Dorson’s, Bloodstoppers and Bearwalkers, he describes Erickson like this: “He’s happy when losing money and grumbling when making it, if you meet him in the woods where he’s boss, he’s dressed up in oxfords, dress pants and a silk shirt. In town he dresses like a lumberjack, very ragged.”
Another tale surrounding Big Eric. He was checking out his cook’s food list. He came to loganberries. “Logging Berries – dat’s fine – order a carload of them.” He then came to New England Ham and crossed it out. “Isn’t American ham good enough for dese damn lumberjacks?”
He was known for helping people out when they needed it and was shrewd with his businesses. Eric was good to his workers often helping them when trouble reared its head. When Prohibition hit, Big Eric wasn’t affected much except for the behavior of his workmen.
One day his men all left for a speakeasy or “blind pig” as they were called, and didn’t return. After a few days, Big Eric went to the illegal saloon and with true sorrow etched on his face, asked the bartender, “Can you let me have these men for a few days?” He got his workmen back.
Later in life, he mused about owning a hotel where the only guests would be lumberjacks. Big Eric moved to Houghton and that’s the last we hear from him. The bridge that bears his name is a reminder of his legacy in the region. A finer place was never picked that bears his name.
Big Eric’s Bridge State Forest Campground
As I wander along the banks of the river taking photographs, one can’t help but feel the energy of the rushing water. It is spring and everything is coming to life. The leaves of the hardwoods are small and not fully grown. Above the river on a small ridge is a campground.
This area was logged at one time but it is difficult to tell. Many of the surrounding trees have grown to a spectacular height giving the feeling of old growth. Walking the road between the campsites is a walk among tall and thick hardwoods with a few pines thrown in.
There are 21 campsites here, all of them primitive. They have a table and fire ring at each site. Because of its remote location, all trash is carry out. If you bring it in, you bring it out. There are pit toilets and hand pumped water. If you are looking for camping with amenities, this is not your place.
Sitting at one of the picnic tables that overlook the Huron River, i realize how full of life the place was. Birds could be heard all around and the forest floor was just beginning its coverage. The first of the wildflowers were blooming and the Spring Beauties were just beginning to pop. I love spring in the U.P.
It’s still early in the year and I feel a chill as the sun creeps to day’s end. I hate to go, but it has been a clear day so the night should get cold. The drive back out is a bit regretful. I really wish that i had had more time to spend at that little campground next to Big Eric’s Bridge.
The Huron River is Michigan’s wild and scenic rivers at it’s best. Cold and untamed it’s flow has created a region of wilderness that is evident throughout Baraga County. The watershed encompasses 61,000 acres and is partly shared with Marquette County.
It can be found off of US-41, exit at L’Anse. Turn right at the four-way stop in downtown L’anse and continue 20 miles on Skanee Road (paved). At the junction of Portice Road and Big Erick’s Road, go right on Big Erick’s Road. One mile (gravel) to the campground.