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Fayette State Park is a unique off-the-main-drag 700 acre woods, historic 19the century townsite, hiking trails and campground on Bay de Noc down the Garden Peninsula in the Upper Peninsula. A short lived but once very active iron smelting facility and community it continues to be preserved and renovated. It's a wonderful place to visit any time of year. Main website: https://www2.dnr.state.mi.us/ParksandTrails/Details.aspx?id=417&type=SPRK . Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FayetteHistoricStatePark/
Ashford Lake Pathw.
We'd been to Fayette numerous times but mostly for the annual Heritage Day in August. For many years we set up our temporary shop on the site of the old Carpenter Shop next to the Blacksmith building and demonstrated using traditional tools, making spoons and other items. The blacksmith would be working on the other side of the building. There was music and other events and it was a great time. Then we played traditional music there for several years, also enjoying that. Steve has an even longer history having visited and explored the town-site with his sister, Nancy, in the early 50's back before much renovation had been done. Recently we've been enjoying the short but delightful trails.
December 18, 2021 -- Picking Up Sticks
With the recent storms, big melt, and gales over we figured it would be nice to head out and help clear a trail and go for a walk. Mildly cold, mid to upper 20's, not much wind, cloudy with occasional flurries -- a decent walking day. But we didn't get going until well after noon so it wouldn't be worth it to drive too far, the days being so short. Maybe down the Garden Peninsula to Fayette, we might even find some bare ground to walk on. Though we had lost significant snow our ground was still well covered with maybe 6" of snow. With the recent freeze the paths were walkable without snowshoes which was nice.
Turns out they had as much snow as our area did. But the main roads were clear and the roadways at Fayette State Park covered with just the most recent snowfall. We parked in the empty parking lot and walked up and over the plow-bank to the start of the upper Bluff Trail. No other tracks from today but when we got out on the trail we guessed the staff had been out yesterday to clear out the larger tree and limb blowdowns across the trails. There was plenty of smaller stuff though to make our walk a progression of stop-stoop-toss-step-step-bend-toss... But there was enough new snow over the layer of frozen slush/snow that had survived to make walking easy. The hardest part was to let small stuff be -- more snow would cover it soon and be fine for the skiers and snowshoers. It was a bit cool along the cliff near the water but we warmed as we went along, stopping a few times to gaze out over the cold water to the townsite on its small wind-swept peninsula.
It wasn't too long and we remembered the important tool of clearing trail -- a good flip-stick -- sturdy but not too big, fairly straight with a nice little hook on the end. No more bending, except for bigger stuff. But then it was even harder to ignore the small stuff, they were so much fun to flip! But we did want to walk, too, so on we went. Such a peaceful place this is this time of year, and always beautiful. As the trail turned inland it was warmer and the woods thicker. Being full of oaks and still live beeches it was also the domain of squirrels. Suddenly the ground was covered with squirrel tracks and little piles of leaves where the critters had been busy retrieving their stashed of nuts. They must have been really happy to have that deep snow melt down.
Later on we came upon a much larger area of dug up leaves. We both said -- deer. We had seen that at on other trails through oaks where deer had cleared the snow around every large oak, going for the acorns under the fallen leaves. But when we got closer there were no deer tracks, just an impressive amount of squirrel traffic! They either had a few crazy active squirrels or a very large population. Maybe both. We only saw one red squirrel but the rest were probably down in their cozy dens sleeping off their nut eating frenzy. Or maybe they had just moved their stash in anticipation of snow to come. Either way, I think they have a healthy squirrel population here. We were surprised not to see any other tracks.
As we walked along the trail we couldn't help but notice temporary wood hanging brackets, regularly spaced, held to trees with velcrowed straps -- easy to installed and remove. Very well designed and built! Every winter Fayette State Park hosts an evening ski-snowshoe-hike Lantern Lit Walk along the 1.5 mile Bluff Trail. We had never gone down for it (it's hard to get us back out out on the snowshoes after dark in the winter) but maybe we will this year. When I got home I looked it up (January 29 this year) to read they use regular kerosene storm lanterns, which explained the sturdy hangers. That's an impressive lot of lanterns to haul, hang, light, and maintain!
When we crossed the road near the entry booth building the trail headed down and was signed with neat small wood signs carved with a painted shoe-sole -- must be a walking trail! We put our flipping sticks down and decided to stop clearing trail and enjoy the rest of the walk. We had an option of the longer outer loop or across the shortcut. None of their trails are "long" but with the cloudy day we chose the shortcut, not wanting to end up walking by headlamp light even on an easy trail (we do enough of that at home!). So down and around we went through a different but still pleasing wood, heading over to the campground and the road along the water. Lined with beautiful and impressive cedars and patches of the unique shaped sumac, with the sound of the waves against the banks this was a cooler (light breeze off the Bay) but beautiful section of the walk. Glimpses of the gray ruffled water was lightly muffled by light snow in the air. This is a walk we've enjoyed often in much warmer, and greener, weather. As we neared the open view of the Bay and the townsite we enjoyed seeing the buildings from this direction, outlined as they were with the snow. We marveled at how cold it must have been to live and work here in those winters long past with cold winds blowing across cold water on either side.
There was enough light left to walk around the townsite but we could feel the falling temperature and breeze picking up so were content to head up the steep hill back to the still empty parking lot and car, having enjoyed our few hours at Fayette.
March 19, 2021 -- Going South to Fayette State Park Trails
Going south to avoid the snow is a normal part of life for many in the U.P. so we decided to give it a try. We like winter and wouldn't choose to live where there was no snow but this in-between time is challenging for hiking. The snow is melting (very fast this year) but the packed paths are still pretty much covered with hard to walk slush, ice, or packed snow. So we headed south (about 26 miles) to Fayette State Park on the Garden Peninsula. We were pretty sure the snow would be gone there and (for the most part) it was. What a wonderful treat to simply walk on bare ground. A bit muddy in places (the snow melt was recent) but one could quite easily walk the dryer edges. Or not. A little mud was a small price to pay for easy footing.
Our non-working trips have always been with company, enjoying the town-site with them but nothing more. Today however, was our day to discover the entire park. They have made a very nice layout of trails throughout the Park for skiing and snowshoeing in the winter and walking in the summer for a total of about 5 miles. That was our focus this trip and we enjoyed all of the various loops and sections, starting on the upper cliff trail along the harbor, from thick cedar to thin hardwoods, then thicker woods inland. The forest is naturally fairly sparse, especially near the cliff face, due to the very shallow soil atop limestone which can only support so much vegetation. It is common to see trees tipped over with their wide but shallow root system pulled out of the soil. The tree types are quite different than our maple dominated woods with mostly oak here and some nice, live beech which is always a happy occurrence. Maybe they have survived because they are a scattered species here.
With a good breeze coming across the still frozen water it was rather cool until we got inland. Then with clear sunshine coming through the leafless hardwoods we relished warmth! For lunch we found a nice large old birch log for very comfortable seating, in the sun, near a beautiful live large beech. It was hard to get moving when we were done! But there was more to explore. We walked the north trails and the south trails, all on high ground, reveling in the beauty and the hiking, until finally heading down to the campground by the water.
South of the campground is a very nice and well maintained park-within-the-Park, with a pavilion and playground equipment, picnic tables and restrooms. And one of the restrooms was open! This is a rare occurrence not only this time of year but this unusual "everything closed" year. The DNR gets extra stars for that. We sat in the sun on a picnic table and finished our picnic lunch. Then continued on south to the small picturesque old "Fisherman's Cemetery", Fayette's catholic cemetery. A lot of local names on those crosses and headstones.
Back through the campsite, along the road into the town, we walked around the familiar paths, remembering highlights of our past visits, seeing new renovation work, admiring the modern dock complex (nicely done), and to our surprise found an impressive new trash and recycling area. Having picked up a number of beer cans and pop bottles at the south park we deposited them in the appropriate bins, with appreciation, and headed back up to the car. It had been a very enjoyable and relaxing afternoon, with plenty of walking yet at a quite different pace than the usual trail hiking. An additional smile came with a sticky note on our windshield from friends who had pulled in after we had and saw us heading off and down the trail. Unfortunately we didn't meet up with them but it was a friendly greeting to get.
Not feeling like heading for home yet we drove on down to check out the small Sac Bay Park. Since Steve is thinking of taking a trip along the Peninsula in his expedition rowboat this summer he wants to know about good pull-out sites. Back home again we agreed it was a very enjoyable day.
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© Susan Robishaw and Stephen Schmeck
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