I have a bucket list. I’ve never actually written this list down, but it exists in my head. See the Northern Lights. Take my children on a tour of Ireland. Get published. Ride a Segway. Visit New Zealand. Mine are simple dreams, ones that I hope to share with family or friends. Near the top of my list was ‘hike through a Michigan old growth forest’. I never imagined that an old growth forest of virgin timber could be found in the Lower Peninsula. When I read about Coy Mountain Old Growth Forest in Alden, I knew we had to make a visit.
It was a chilly, rainy afternoon when we reached the hiking trail. David and Riley were not thrilled with the idea of yet another hike through a forest. I promised them a movie if they spent the afternoon with me, but by the time we reached Alden they were regretting the choice.
That changed within moments of entering the forest. Our necks craned skyward as we took in the giants around us. Coy Mountain contains primarily Sugar Maple, American Beech, and Hemlocks. In the forests of Emmet County, it is common to see trees 40-50′ tall. These ancient trees reached heights of at least 60 feet, and I would not be surprised to learn that some are as large as 100 feet tall.
Curious as to how a 17-acre forest escaped the lumberman’s axe in the heart of timber country, I sat down on a stump and looked up the history of the preserve.
Reuben Coy protected the forest’s original 11-acres in 1885. The land was located behind his gristmill, and he wanted the forest to be a reminder of what the land looked like when he arrived in Alden. The forest remained in possession of Coy’s descendants until 1985, when it was deeded to Helena Township. Shortly there after, another six acres of land was added to the preserve.
The trail through the park is about 1.5 miles, and includes some pretty steep terrain. My son and I kept our eyes to the canopy, watching large hawks zip past the break in the leaves. My daughter meanwhile explored the forest floor. Every few hundred yards she would cry out in surprise, “Dad! An orange mushroom!” “Dad! This sprout looks like a ghost!” “Dad! Dr. Seuss Berries! (Actually Doll’s Eyes/White Baneberry)”
If anyone knows the names of these mushrooms/plants, I would love to know.
Halfway along the trail, we heard the distinctive knocking of a woodpecker. We rounded one bend and saw him, his red head turned our way in annoyance. By the time I lifted the camera, he was gone. David ran ahead to examine the tree the bird was knocking. It looked like a Swiss tree telephone. David dared Riley to put her finger in one of the holes. Never one to turn down a dare, she timidly approached the tree. “Are there baby woodpeckers in there,” she asked. I could not help but laugh. “No,” I answered. “The woodpecker is knocking in an effort to find bugs. Ants, termites, beetles.” I think that served to scare Riley more, but her brother was watching. Carefully she slid her finger into a hole. Once up to her first knuckle, she looked back at her brother with a smile. He was completely unimpressed. And then…Riley screamed bloody murder. I rushed to her side and David turned ghost white. Seeing his reaction, she pulled out her finger and waggled at him. “Gotcha,” she screamed.
We continued further along the trail, which crested at the top of a hill overlooking the lake. Eventually we found one of the great giants on its side, having fallen. If Riley was unimpressed about the size of the trees when they were standing, she understood their enormity as she walked along the tree’s side. David tried to pace out the giant, but lost count at 62. I estimated the tree to be at least 85′ feet long. The kids spent twenty minutes climbing the trunk and examining a mammoth splintered crack. When they reached the base of the tree, the height and width of the roots awed us all.
As the two explored the fallen giant, it began to rain. David found it funny to shake smaller trees as we rushed to the car, pouring down large rain drops onto our head.
When we drove off, David gave me a rare thanks. “That was probably the coolest thing we’ve done for your magazine yet,” he told me. When I told him that there were larger old growth forests in the UP, he smiled.
Coy Mountain is located in the charming little village of Alden, tucked away on Torch Lake about 15 minutes south of Bellaire. There is no admission to enter the park. The trail is only 1.5 miles, but moderately hilly. A shorter, flatter trail is also available.