Cyrus McCormick Wilderness Area – Marquette County Michigan

McCormick Wilderness Tract

By Mikel B. Classen

The tall granite bluffs stand like monuments amidst towering virgin pine and ancient hardwoods.  Out of these cliffs flow countless springs which feed and nurture streams and lakes nestled within the valleys between them.  Wildlife, occasionally appearing out of curiosity, abounds throughout the area.  This wilderness is a different world, remote and solitary; it was the world of escape for a rich and famous man, Cyrus H. McCormick, the inventor who made his fortune by mechanizing farming.

The McCormick Tract contains over 17,000 acres of absolute wilderness,a last refuge of true Michigan wild land as first seen by explorers so long ago, was acquired by its namesake after the logging rush of the early 1900s.  Realizing many stands of virgin pine and hardwoods remained in the area, McCormick purchased this vast acreage containing lakes, mountains and streams, some of the most breathtaking in the Upper Peninsula.  He deeply loved this land and refused to allow any type of environmental exploitation. To this day it remains inviolate.

McCormick created a great vacation playground for himself. The property was explored and mapped and groomed trails were created. McCormick had a stipulation that the branches of the trees were to be groomed so that a rider on a bicycle, I’m referring to those turn of the century big wheeled ones, could pass with an open umbrella and not touch a branch. The trail lead to the famed Huron Mountain Club that held vast amounts of land west of Big Bay, 26 miles away.

He fell in love with the place he christened White Deer Lake. On this McCormick chose the site for a cluster of log and stone cabins,a grand camp, unparalleled anywhere in the world.  This became his private and personal playground. He had a building raised on a large granite island in the middle of the lake to house his records and victrola. McCormick would sit out there on his island listening to music that would echo around the great rocks of the lake.

McCormick entertained friends and colleagues here. It was his and his family’s escape from the Chicago world of business. His love of the natural world left a great legacy for those that would come after.

The property remained in the family until 1969, when it was donated to the U.S. Forest Service for public use under the stipulation that it remain wilderness.

Until 1987 the USFS used the area for research in forest ecology, allowing primitive recreation only–hiking and skiing, but not overnight camping.  But today, due to a bill passed in the legislature designating wilderness areas, no impact camping is allowed, and the area can be truly experienced.  The use of motorized vehicles of any kind is not permitted.

To the McCormick Wilderness area, go 3 miles west of Champion, or 1 mile west of Van Riper Park off U.S. 41, the tract is on County Road 607 also known as the Peshekee Grade.  Travel 8 miles north after leaving the highway, until a dirt turnoff to the right is spotted.  The turnoff ends after approximately 100 feet.  A gated bridge spans the beautiful Pesheke river, marking the beginning of the hiking trail leading into the tract.

Forest, wetlands, and wildlife are evident along the trail which meanders between rock bluffs abundant with fresh flowing springs.  Located only about 5 miles from the Moose Lift release area, the hiker’s chance of spotting one of these massive creatures is the best in the U.P.

After about 3 miles, the trail ends at White Deer Lake where the foundations of McCormick’s showcase camp once stood.  A vast clearing provides an ideal campsite.  Portaging in a canoe, raft, or small boat can bring unexpected pleasure because miles of navigable waterways begin here.  The headwaters of several large rivers including the Yellow Dog and Dead Rivers are located at White Deer Lake.

Old hiking trails made by the McCormick family can still be found and used.  Several scenic overlooks reveal spectacular views of the distant Huron Mountains and long, wide valleys.

The north portion of the tract contains virgin white pine and the Yellow Dog River Falls. The trees here are immense and overwhelming. It is the Upper Peninsula as first seen by the explorers, the modern world nowhere in evidence.

An area for all seasons, the wilderness unveils radical differences from one season to the next.  Winter provides cross country skiing and snowshoeing filled with rare solitude.  Long icicles, fed by the springs, decorate the bluffs.  Dense forest offers protection from the winds.

Springtime, the season of awakening and rebirth, is more evident in this wilderness, teeming with color and life.  An ideal prescription for cabin fever, a day hike can cleanse the soul of winter stagnation while loosening dormant muscles.

During the heat of summer, the tract offers good fishing and a berry lined trail.  The thick shaded forest and cool rock outcropping combines to make heat more tolerable.  But, summer brings bugs, nets and repellent are not only recommended but required.

The highlight is autumn; with the rare old hardwoods mixed with the pines, a display of magnificent color awaits the visitor.  The view from the bluffs is unsurpassed, the air cool, the insects gone.

Fishing and hunting are allowed in the tract, but deer are scarce, and this is moose country, the hunter must be sure before taking aim.  Many species of fish inhabit the lakes throughout the tract.

A lifetime of exploring awaits the visitor in this vast section of the National Forest.  The McCormick tract can get into the blood, and require regular visits.  The question never arises of why the McCormicks chose this area for their private playground.  There’s nothing like it.

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Content copyright . Mikel Classen. All rights reserved.