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tall pines
A volunteer looking up at the tall Estivant Pines.
Estivant Pines
508 acres in Keweenaw County


In the early 1970s the call went out: “Save the pines! Save the pines!”  Why all the fuss over a patch of woods?  Those who have visited Estivant Pines know why:  These enormous trees are as many as 600 years old and have been called a living museum.  They are among the very last old-growth white pines in Michigan, and by preserving them we preserve our history. 

When logging began just south of what is now the sanctuary, Lauri Leskinen, a Copper Country native who knew and loved the pines, wrote a column called “The Last Stand,” which appeared in the Houghton Daily Mining Gazette:

The Last Stand
The Estivant Pines are being cut. One of the last stands of virgin pines in the Midwest is in the process of being erased form the earth- forever.

Mile upon mile of beautiful white pine from Saginaw to Copper Harbor tumbled to the earth with only a few trees left in one or two isolated spots.

And now- the end of the line! The Estivant Pines located south of Copper Harbor are being cut today! The year 1971 when our ears, minds and hearts are being barraged with the words ecology, conservation, pollution and the preservation of natural beauty! I didn’t think this could happen in the year 1971 to the last remnant of the beautiful pine forest of Michigan.

Considering the tremendous amount of profit the local mining company had derived from the copper of Keweenaw and the low tax rate of their land, one would think that the little piece of land on which the pines stand could have been given as gift to the state or some organization.

I am well aware that the trees are scattered but they are the last of our big pines and that is the final answer to any evasion of responsibility of cutting even one of these trees.

Where is the Michigan Dept. Of Resources? Where are the nature lovers?

Only one group seems to be interested. The Michigan Nature Association. God bless them.

I do not know the intent of the Goodman Lumber Co., but I sincerely hope that, as a public relations gesture, they deed several forties to some worthy organization.

Do you know what it is like to stand in virgin timber? You probably are too young to have experienced this. I have and I remember. Most of you never will.

Also in March of 1971, Charles Eshbach took pictures of loggers cutting these pines. These were published in the Milwaukee Journal. An order came down to halt any cutting. These two acts started the "Save the Pines" movement.  After long negotiations, the big day arrived on August 17, 1973. MNA received a copy of the deed and the Estivant Pines were saved.

The Estivant tract is believed to be the last stand of virgin white pine in the Upper Peninsula. In 1955, in recognition of its grace and beauty as well as its role in the wealth and development of Michigan, the white pine was designated the official state tree of Michigan.

If you hike today into the MNA-saved remnant of Keweenaw forest, you discover a living museum, a monument of ancient trees. A dense primeval forest hems you in as you traverse a pristine woods path where pines are set against the sky on ridges above you. At the gateway to the “cathedral” pines, ahead and beneath on both sides appear dark, ghostly straight trunks of huge pines.

Among the pines, it is the size that impresses you. Their height- 130 to 150 feet- is inspiring. When you try to reach around one you find it takes three people!

All ages of trees down to seedling growth can be found, with gigantic ones scattered throughout. When a majestic tree falls, an opening is created for replacements.

The cathedral grouping is the end of the walking trail, but only an estimated one percent of the trees can be seen on a trip as far as that point. The pines are scattered and many of the finest clusters are in solitary places hard to reach in the southwest corner of the sanctuary, and an observer can count more than 125 big pines from one spot.

Fewer plant species survive the boreal climate and thin topsoil backed by bedrock here in the Keweenaw than thrive in the warm and fertile forests further south. Nevertheless there is ample variety in the ground cover, which includes asters, clintonia, baneberry, miterwort, violets, pyrolas, twisted stalk, spring beauty, bloodroot, twin flower, anemones and sarsaparilla. Ferns include maiden hair, spleenwort, holly fern, Braun’s holly fern, rusty woodsia, and common polypody.

Some 85 bird species have been found nesting here, including indigo bunting, red crossbill, flycatchers, hawks, jays, nuthatches, owls, sparrows, thrushes, warblers, woodcock, and woodpeckers.

Other unique features of the sanctuary are rock out-croppings, steep, craggy hillsides, cliffs, and old copper mine workings dating back over 135 years, From the edge of the beaver meadow in the southeast part of the main 160 acres, there is a magnificent view of lofty prominences with a change in elevation of 400 feet.

A features map and compass are needed if you plan to venture off the trail.