Harrison

Christmas Music Already–oh the Horrors

Stopped in yesterday (Oct. 26) to my neighborhood Family Dollar store in Harrison, Michigan. As I wandered the aisle I heard “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” a great hymn. I was humming along thinking how nice it was to hear a Christian hymn in a store when suddenly the thought struck me: I wasn’t listening to a hymn, I was listening to CHRISTMAS MUSIC. In October. Days before Halloween. I grabbed my purchase and headed for the cashier. As I paid for my purchase I commented on how terrible it was the store was already playing CHRISTMAS MUSIC. “I’ll be tired of it by Christmas, that’s for sure,” she growled.

That’s the Christmas spirit I thought as I headed out the door, wishing the cashier a “ho,ho ho, as I left.

Categories: General, Harrison, Home life | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Biking at Mid-Michigan Community College

Maple tree in fall on Mid-Michigan bike trailThere are four miles of great hiking trails at Mid-Michigan Community College‘s Harrison campus. I’ve walked all of them at one time or another during all seasons. One of the trails even follows an old railroad bed for a time where steam locomotives once ran regularly from Clare through logging towns (and now ghost towns) such as  Hatton, Mannsiding and Mostetler up to the present day community of Dodge hauling lumberman and their families and taking back timber for the growing cities of the Midwest.

But until this week I never took the biking trails. And I missed out. Like their brother hiking trails, these pass through some wonderful stands of maple, beech and pine and are uncrowded. However, unlike the hiking trails that are relatively level and 12-feet wide, these biking trails are very narrow and transverse the hills around the campus.

I enjoyed the ride. However, it showed me just how out of shape I am. It took me two days to cover it all and I must admit I walked a portion of it. These middle-aged legs and my cheap little bike just wouldn’t take me up all the hills. And in some cases I was afraid to ride down ’em. I am proud that I didn’t break any bones and I am not too sore (except maybe my bottom).

This fall is a great time to be out there. Temperatures are mild, the trees are exploding in color, the trails are dry and the bugs are non-existent.

So it you are able, grab a bike and a helmet, tuck in those elbows (the trees in spots are very close together) and go for a ride. You might even see me…well, on the hiking trails. When it comes to riding, I think I will stick to the Pere-Marquette Rail Trail that now runs from Midland nearly to Reed City. Maybe I’m a wimp but I prefer my trails for my two-wheeler to be broad and flat.

Categories: Clare County, ecology, Harrison, History, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

My Painted Turtles Hatched-Well Kinda

baby painted turtle in handWay back on June 25, I watched a painted turtle lay eggs on a sandy hill outside my window in Harrison, Michigan. I had never seen that happen before and I was enchanted and watched it from start to finish. I even took the female back down to my pond afterward so she wouldn’t have to walk all the way back. I wrote about it in the post soon afterward.

Then I waited. And waited some more. I knew it could take anywhere from 30-to-80 days for turtles to hatch (a lot depends on temps). Every once in awhile I checked the site but 30 days soon turned into 80, and early summer turned into late summer and still and nothing.

My cousin, who is a herpetologist (it’s good to have one of those in the family) told me at our family reunion on Labor Day to wait another couple of weeks and then dig up the nest and see what was there. She said that sometimes the female gets so scared when someone comes around while she’s laying eggs that she does not really lay them, just goes through the motion.

Five turtles So I waited. And waited some more. And then on Sept. 22, I grabbed my shovel and dug. Carefully, hoping I wouldn’t chop any  eggs– or turtles–in half should there be any. I was not even sure what I would find. And after about four shovelfuls of dirt I hit paydirt. Or should I say a squirming mass of turtles about six inches down in the warm sand. Five turtles to be exact. Well, maybe six but I was so excited I could have lost one when I scooped them up. They were about an inch in diameter and the spitting image of their mom. Although they seemed happy at first to see the sunlight and me, they soon did their turtle thing and pulled back into their shells. I placed them down in the grass, then on the concrete and then in the house on the kitchen floor and took a number of photos of them. And then…well, I was suddenly at a loss on what to do. Maybe I shouldn’t have dug them up after all. Maybe they were getting ready to hibernate. Maybe they were now as good as dead because I HAD dug them up. Maybe I had sealed their death warrant.

I tried to call my herpetologist cousin but she was not available. So I decided to just let them all go. After all, the water was still warm, the sun was still bright and at the very least they could get a bite to eat (assuming they knew how and what to eat) since I was plumb out of turtle food.

So I took them to the edge of the pond on my property and placed them on a stick one-by-one at the water’s edge. And, one by one, they came out of their shells, launched themselves into the water and set off swimming as though they had been doing it all their lives. And then they were gone.

It was very cool.

Categories: Clare County, ecology, Harrison, Home life, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 2 Comments

A Cross at the edge of the Woods

White cross on a tree at the edge of the woodsDavid Bruce Popovich died sometime early on Sept. 30, 1995 on Mostetler Road east of Harrison, Michigan. According to the Clare County Cleaver, Popovich was the sole occupant of  a pickup truck that went out of control at a curve on the gravel road and flipped over. Popovich, a self-employed auto mechanic, was 41. He left behind a son, Joshua, who lived in Pontiac, Michigan along with three brothers.

I never knew Mr. Popovich or had even heard of him until a month ago when I was riding my bicycle on Mostetler and spotted a two-foot high cross tied to a tree at a curve in the road at the edge of the woods. The cross was well made but its white paint it had peeled and the writing, what remained, was faded. However, the date of birth and date of death was visible along with the words “in Memory of” in neat lettering.

Something touched me about that faded cross. Maybe it’s the fact that it had been forgotten and I wondered whether Mr. Popovich had too been forgotten nearly 16 years after his passing.  Maybe it’s the fact he had moved up to Harrison from Metro Detroit leaving his family behind, something I too recently have done due to a pending divorce.

After visiting the Cleaver and learning about Mr. Popovich and the details of the crash, I wanted to do something about the condition of the cross so I went to the site, untied it from the tree and took it home. As I sanded it in preparation for repainting I found that someone had put a gold necklace with cross over the upright of the cross. I wondered who had created the cross and placed it on the site and who had put the necklace there and did they still think of David on occasion.

The cross has been repainted and  has is tied to the tree.  I added the wording that I saw on the cross when I first saw it along with the name of the person it honors, although the name may not have been there originally. Maybe others will see the cross, and maybe they will slow down at they approach the curve so no one else will suffer the fate of Mr. Popovich. But if nothing else, I hope it honors a man whose life  ended at the edge of the woods.

June 2018: I have repainted the cross for the 3rd time (last time was probably 2015) and reapplied the words. The wood making up the cross is getting pretty rotten and is soft in places. The cross doesn’t have many more years of life. The necklace is still there.  In addition, the property owners have cut a number of trees in the area but left the cross alone.  

August 2020: I reapplied the words to the cross that have faded over the last two years. Necklace still there. The cross is holding up but not sure how much longer.  Wonder what ever happened to the son…

Categories: Harrison, History, Life, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Comments on the Clare County Historical Tour

Twelve signs have been erected in Clare County, Michigan denoting historical places or celebrating events that took place within county boundaries.The sites are promoted a local Chamber of Commerce. I was told that the sites were chosen by Clare County Parks & Recreation, the Clare County Historical Society and Central Michigan University’s history department. Most of the markers are related to lumbering that took place in the later part of the 19th century. During that period lumberjacks came by the thousands to mid- and upper-Michigan to cut the towering virgin pines that grew to feed the growing hunger for boards and shingles in cities throughout the state and Midwest. These included cities like Chicago that was rebuilding after its massive fire in 1875.

People became rich during that era. Not the lumberjacks who cut the trees and moved the logs, but those who owned the land, ran the railroads and the mills–and perhaps those owned the bars where the loggers drank away their earnings.

I took a trip across the county in July to locate the historical sites to see if I could find the landmark signs and to see what I thought of them. In the end, I visited all 12 sites although I found only 10 markers. I am not sure if some of the sites on the tour should remain since nothing remains at the sites of an historical nature. However, perhaps landmarks, like art, is in the eye of the beholder.

Below is my take on the 12 sites along with directions, links and information that doesn’t appear in the Chamber tour that history buffs may find helpful.  And although I may not agree with all the sites chosen, I still invite you to take the tour. It does make for pleasant afternoon drive.

1) Leota:  (Jonesville Rd., ½ mile north of Muskegon Rd.) Leota was a major logging town on the Muskegon River. Loggers brought their logs to the river  where they were floated downstream to sawmills. I could not find the marker in the area, which is now an ORV trail parking lot. In the lumbering era, the site was reportedly used as a railway roll-off for timber being moved out of nearby forests into the river for transport to mills downstream. Although the Chamber tour states the bridge on the site was used by the railroad, it was part of the Old State Road built in the 1930’s.

2) Merideth: (M-18, 3-miles north of Arnold Lake Rd. in the northeast corner of the county.) This site of intersecting railways was once a bustling lumber town. In 1885, 500 people lived in the town that sported several saloons, three hotels, an Opera House, jail, rail depot, roundhouse and three-story school. One of Merideth’s most infamous residents was saloonkeeper Jim Carr who is said to have trafficked in vices of all kinds including murder. It is said that when he died, seven ministers refused to officiate at his funeral and he was not allowed burial in the local cemetery. Not much of a historical nature remains in town. There is a screen from a drive-in theater that closed in the ’80s and a general store made of stone that may or may not be on the site of the former train depot. According to the book Michigan’s Ghost Towns, the theater stands where most of the former town once stood. The old town cemetery is unmarked and on private property.

3) Surrey House: (125 E. Beech, Harrison) Originally called the Ohio Tavern when constructed around 1880, the Surrey originally had an attached livery. Rumor has it that the second story was used as a house of ill repute during its saloon days. It is also rumored to be haunted by the non-violent spirit of a boy.  The building was remodeled into a hotel in the 1940’s and has been used most recently as a restaurant and bar. It is currently closed.

4) Spikehorn’s “Bear and Deer Park”: (Corner of M-61 and Business US-27, Harrison) John “Spikehorn” Meyers was one of Harrison’s most colorful characters. With his long white hair and full white beard, he was part showman, part naturalist, part politician and full-time foe of Michigan’s conservation officers with whom he fought legal battles because of his possession of wild animals.  Spikehorn opened his park around 1930 as a tourist attraction and would hand-feed the bears and, along with his friend Red Eagle, would regale tourists with stories of their adventures in the woods.  The park burned in the 1950’s. The photo depicts the site before the fire. Currently, part of the stone foundation is visible.

5) Campbell: (1901 E. Main, Temple) Now called Temple, this town, platted in 1899, was originally named after Mary Campbell who donated land for it along the Ann Arbor Railroad that ran past her property. Once home to 400, Campbell/Temple’s buildings included two hotels, a train depot, several saloons and grocery stores, sawmills and a two-story town hall.  This was another Clare town that declined when the timber played out. The final blow was when the railroad ended passenger traffic shortly after WWII.  Now a quiet village, it is home to Duggan’s Canoe Livery and a man who must love birdhouses (photo).

6) Gerrish Railroad Plaque: (Roadside County Park on S. Clare Rd., south of Mannsiding Rd., between Clare and Harrison) Clare county probably has more miles of old railroad grades than any county in the state and that is in no small part due to Winfield Scott Gerrish, who introduced the first logging railroad in Clare County in January 1877. (Note: This post originally and incorrectly stated that Scott’s logging railroad was the first un the world. Gerrish got his idea after seeing a locomotive made for just such a use at a exposition in the eastern states. He bought two locomotives and had them brought to Michigan.)  Called the Lake George & Muskegon Railroad, his train revolutionized the logging industry that, up to that time, relied on horses or water to move cut timber out of the woods. Even taking into consideration the time and expense needed to build the railbeds and lay down the track, the railroads proved extremely profitable as they cut expenses associated with moving timber out of the woods. A plaque commemorating Gerrish can also be found in the nearby community of  Lake George.

7) Cornwell Ranch: (Cornwell Ave. ½ mile south of Mannsiding Rd. and east of S. Clare Rd.) A key employer in the early era of this county, this ranch had a major influence on the development of surrounding communities. Many of the buildings on the ranch, as well as portions of the fence line are built of fieldstones and cobblestones found in abundance in the glacial moraine just to the south.

8) Depression Era Mural: (Doherty Hotel, McEwan St, Clare) Painted by Jay McHugh in 1932 this mural that is approximately 4-feet high and 75-feet long depicts leprechauns making beer. McHugh painted the mural in return for room and board. Articles in the lobby tell the story of the murals and the history of the hotel.

9) Depression Era Murals:
a. Treasury Art (Clare Post Office, Fifth St., Clare) Entitled “The Mail Comes to Clare County,”  this mural was produced under a Treasury Section of Fine Arts program similar to those down by the Works Project Administration. More than 50 post offices in Michigan have murals. The mural in Clare can be seen during regular postal business hours.
b. WPA Art: (Clare Middle School, 209 E. State St. Clare)  A mural, by Grand Rapids artist Gerald Mast fills one wall of the auditorium and celebrates farm life.  It can be viewed by appointment. Call 989-386-9979 to arrange a tour. A second piece of art, an 8-foot tall sculpture entitled “Pioneer Mother” by Samuel Cashwan stands in front of the school.

10) Clare County Museum Complex: (Everhart and Dover Rds., five miles north of Clare and one miles east of S. Clare Rd.) The former town of Dover is now the site of the Clare County Historical Museum complex that contains a museum with displays highlighting county history, the original Dover school built in 1876 and a log cabin used by Louie and Emma Ott to raise their 18 children. It was moved to museum grounds from within the county in 2000. The buildings are open Saturdays from 1-5 p.m. from May through September.

11) Farwell Historical Museum: (221 Main, Farwell) The museum highlights the history of Farwell, which once served as the county seat. The town was established in 1870 along the line of the Pere Marquette Railroad and named for Samuel Farwell,  a resident of Utica, New York and contractor for public works in the state.  However, Farwell was also a major stockholder in the Flint Pere Marquette Railway Company that eventually came through town.  It’s possible that Farwell was so named to curry favor with the railroad and ensure the town became a major stop.   The museum is open Saturdays during the summer. The town also has a wonderful Queen Anne style house built in 1895 by George and Martha Hitchcock that stands at the corner of Michigan and Superior.

12) Wilson State Park: (Shore of Budd Lake, Harrison) William Wilson of Wilson Brothers Lumber Company that had owned much of the land around Harrison and ran a sawmill on the banks of Budd Lake, deeded 40 acres to the City of Harrison to be used as a park. The park was given to the state in 1922 and became a state park in 1927. In 1939, the Civilian Conservation Corp constructed the main park building, which is still used today. They also built a stone residence with rock from nearby counties.  The park is located right in Harrison and has  modern campsites, a beach and is adjacent to the county fairgrounds. More info.

Note: All photos, except for the Spikehorn photo were taken by the author. The Spikehorn photo is from the collection of Forrest Meek and can be found in the Mid Michigan Community College library. Please contact the author if you find any of the information in this tour to be in error or know of any other historical sites in the county you believe deserve recognition.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, Michigan, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Turtle Watching: Life in the Slow Lane

Face of a painted turtleThere are a number of advantages to living the life of a country squire–or that of an unemployed, soon-to-be divorced man living in the woods of mid-Michigan. One advantage is seeing a slice of life not available to those in the big city. An example is the painted turtle I spotted ambling across my yard Sunday, June 26 in search of a nesting site.

I have seen turtles on my property before (snappers for the most part), and have even seen turtles laying eggs, but until this recent Sunday I never had the opportunity or time to watch the entire process.

I spotted the turtle when I chanced to glance out the window while vacuuming a back bedroom. The turtle, about 6-inches long, was moving at a pretty good clip–maybe 30-feet per minute–across a sandy slope on my property about 50- yards from a pond where I presume the amphibian had emerged. As I watched, she moved in a zig-zag pattern, stopping every once in a while to dig for a few seconds with its front claws before moving on. Occasionally, she would even stay long enough in a spot to dig a shallow hole before deciding, for whatever reason, to move on.

The turtle was on high alert the entire time, sometimes stopping to raise her head high as if sniffing the air  or because she spotted some movement that might signal a predator.

Finally, after 15-minutes of searching, the turtle started to dig in an area of sand found between a few sparse patches of grass and a dandelion. She started with her front claws and switched to the back claws after getting a depression started. The turtle worked quickly tossing dirt hither and yon as she worked. This went on for another 10-minutes before she stopped Painted turtle laying eggsand lowered her backside into the hole and became relatively still.

Once the turtle started laying her eggs, I took my camera and walked out to her to take a photo. Her head turned to watch me with a look that almost seemed to be disapproval. I snapped a couple of photos and walked back inside. After a while, I became bored and went back to vacuuming, peering out the window periodically to see if she had moved.

After 45-minutes, the turtle began to move in earnest, kicking with her back legs but this time replacing the sand instead of ejecting it. I crept back outside and attempted to sneak up behind her, even going so far as to crawl on my belly to film the process. She spotted me right off (I make for a big target), and although she paused for a few moments she went back to burying the eggs as I filmed away.

When satisfied the job was complete and the eggs safe, she began to  amble in the direction of the pond. It was at that point I intervened and picked her up. I measured and  photographed her and even put the date on her bottom shell (plastron) using indelible marker before taking her to the pond and depositing her at its edge where she immediately dove into the water and disappeared.

I went back to the nesting site. The mother-to-be had done a great job or covering the burial site. In fact, had I not marked it when I picked her up to transport her to the pond, I would not have found it. However, the raccoons would have. And they seem to love turtle eggs because every year I find turtle eggshells scattered along the same slope this turtle used. (The above photo shows the remains of eggs along with a quarter used for scale.) To prevent the coons from getting to the eggs, I covered the site with a BBQ grate I will leave a for a couple of weeks, hoping by then the scent of turtle and eggs is gone and the site can remain inviolate until the turtles hatch. According to a couple of websites I reviewed that should happen in two- to three-months.

Ttime will tell whether the turtle will become a mother, although she will never know. Apparently what I saw is as far as the turtle maternal instinct goes. The babes will be on their own when they are born. Maybe I will be vacuuming and get to see them crawl forth. I hope so. That would be pretty cool. Maybe I can be turtle taxi and take them in the pond like I did with their mom.

Categories: ecology, Harrison, Home life, Life, Michigan, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Alien invaders in Clare County, Michigan

Autumn olive growing along Clare County roadsideIt’s amazing how something can be invisible in plain sight. Take autumn olive, for example. In Clare County, in the middle of Michigan’s lower peninsula this invasive shrub is rapidly multiplying taking over fallow fields, roadsides and ecologically important natural areas. The above photo shows a stand of autumn olive growing along Springwood Drive, east of Harrison. Currently, the shrubs are about 6-feet tall and one can still see the lake on the other side of them. But sadly, not for long.

Autumn olive can grow as tall as 20 feet. Its cream to pale yellow flowers bloom in early spring.  The plant leaves are elliptical-shaped with a slightly wavy margin. The stalks have thorns, which make it difficult hard to walk or hunt through a stand of them. In the fall, the shrub has an abundance of pink to red berries that birds and other wildlife (including deer) find tasty.There are even recipes on the web for using the berries to make jams and pies.

I never really noticed the autumn olive in the county until a friend pointed it out on my property. Then I began to notice it everywhere, down nearly every road i drove, especially on windy days when its silvery underside makes  the plant to stand out from the surrounding vegetation.

So, why should we care if this shrub is invading Clare County?

Easy, because it’s a threat to the ecology of the area. The Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources rates it as a medium-to-high threat in northern Michigan counties. According to the Nature Conservancy:

Autumn olive is an invasive specie that out-competes and displaces native plants by creating a dense shade that hinders the growth of plants that need lots of sun. It can produce up to 200,000 seeds each year, and can spread over a variety of habitats as its nitrogen-fixing root nodules allows the plant to grow in even the most unfavorable soils. Not to mention that it reproduces quickly and with little effort at all. Birds are quite attracted to the seeds  and will scatter them throughout pastures, along roadsides and near fences.

map of US having problems with autumn oliveAutumn Olive does have some good qualities and that is why if was originally brought to the U.S.  It is a native to China, Japan and Korea and was imported to the United States around 1830. In the 1950’s it was widely promoted as a great way to provide wildlife habitat and erosion control in environmentally disturbed areas. However, the shrub soon became a major problem as it began to rapidly spread and thrive where it was not wanted moving into grasslands and ecologically diverse areas where it began to crowd out native vegetation. Michigan is not the only state having problems with autumn olive. In fact, autumn olive is quickly becoming one of the most troublesome shrubs in the central and eastern United States.  (Click on map for enlarged view.)

What People Should Do About It
Hand pulling autumn olive seedlings is an effective way to rid yourself of the plant. In fact, control efforts before fruiting will prevent the spread of seeds. If the plant is too big to pull, herbicides will be necessary to eradicate the plant from the general area of invasion. Cut the plant and apply herbicide to the trunk repeatedly, from summer through winter otherwise the shrub will regrow with renewed vigor.

People in Clare County don’t know much about this alien invader yet, but they will. The shrub, like the truth,  is out there. But unlike the truth, it’s becoming more common–and it’s growing.

Categories: Clare County, ecology, Harrison | Tags: | Leave a comment

A no-win Scenario in Harrison

It’s the Kobayashi Maru–a no-win situation–come to Harrison, Michigan.

We support Michigan Moto Mania lawn signHarrison is a community of some 2,000 people located near the middle of the state’s lower peninsula. Harrison and the surrounding area are relatively poor lacking any major industries and having to depend on tourism and agriculture to stoke its economic engine. And even in regards to tourism, Harrison is more of a stopping point than a destination.  That’s why when Doug and Robin Longenecker, came to town with the promise to being in more tourists and their dollars, the Longeneckers were welcomed with open arms by most of Harrison’s citizens. Unfortunately, one important group of citizens, a group that really matters most–its neighbors–don’t want it.

The facts of the story are this: The Longeneckers purchased 200 acres of land located about 4 miles east of Harrison on Mostetler Road for an attraction they called Michigan Moto Mania. It would be a  road park for motorcycles, quads and various other vehicles. The property the Longeneckers chose consisted of rolling terrain off of a lightly traveled country road. The surrounding area had few residents, but most of the land was in private hands with some state land sprinkled about.

Mosteller RoadThe Longeneckers purchased the property on land contract  after receiving a variance from the township zoning board that the land could be used for the purpose the new owner intended. The township zoning board, consisting of volunteers, was more than happy to grant that  variance, especially since it would mean additional visitors and dollars to the community.

There was just one problem. The zoning board gave its blessing to the plan without giving the neighbors in the immediate vicinity proper notification as required by law. So when the Longeneckers began to cut down trees and bulldoze trails for MMM, several neighbors went ballistic–and one can’t blame them. Most of the neighbors purchased their property in order to enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside, to watch deer in their yards along with wild turkeys, fox, birds and other assorted wildlife. They didn’t have anything against a resort for motorized vehicles, they just didn’t want it located on Mostetler Road where they would be subjected to the whine of small motors and the roar of large motors day in and day out.

So the neighbors filed suit and have stopped MMM in its tracks and trails. Although the Township Board andMMM property and trails Township Planning Commission have both voted in favor of MMM, the Zoning Board of Appeals and the township attorney have ruled against it.  The courts have so far failed to rule other than to keep the track from opening and tossing the problem back to the township to resolve.

So it’s neighbor against neighbor. The Longeneckers played by the rules, but may lose their investment due to the incompetence of a zoning board that consisted of volunteers who were trying to do what they thought was the right thing. However, members of that board failed in their duty to protect the rights of nearby landowners who should have had a voice and who just want to enjoy their isolated homesteads in peace.

MMM has a Facebook page and has more than 2,100 friends. At least one blogger opposed to the resort posts on a blog called the Hayes Township Watchdog. Sadly, both sides demonize the other. So no matter what happens, someone is going to be harmed and someone’s rights will be trampled. It’s an ugly situation in a town my wife and I have grown to love.

Update: According to an article in the January 13, 2011 issue of the Clare County Cleaver,a local newspaper, the Longneckers have submitted a new plan “complete with a variety of nature-themed activities including horseback riding, cross country skiing, hiking and camping.” The same article states that the opposition seeks removal of  Zoning Board Chairman Lyle Criscuolo from the Zoning Board stating he is biased toward granting a permit to Longeneckers to open their resort.

Categories: Economy, Harrison, Jobs and the economy, Michigan, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.