Building an Alliance

Building an Alliance
Text by Ben East, a member of the Michigan Conservation Hall of Fame and legendary outdoor writer for Outdoor Life.
How to preserve the old growth forest in the Porkies? I chewed on the problem for a minute or two. As outdoor writer for a group of Michigan newspapers, I had seen a couple of somewhat similar campaigns carried to a successful conclusion, including one that culminated in the establishment of the Isle Royale National Park in upper Lake Superior.
“What you need is outside help,” I suggested. “We realize that,” Dick agreed, “but how do we go about it?”
There was another long, thoughtful pause. Then somebody came up with a suggestion. “Why not organize a Save-the-Porcupines Association, nationwide?”
I could see the idea catching on in Ray Dick, starting to burn like the lightning of a slow fuse on a powder keg. None of us guessed it at the time, but what we were witnessing that night was the turning point in the long and uphill battle to keep the wilderness of the Porcupines untouched.
Ray Dick’s first step was to carry out the suggestion of organizing a national Save-the-Porcupines Association. He started with local people. Ed Johnson, the Ironwood newspaperman who had sat beside the fire that spring night at the mouth of the Carp, was chosen president. Ray kept for himself the work-horse job of secretary. The letters he wrote before the campaign was finished ran well into the thousands.
Then, as we had foreseen when the plan was born, the pleas to preserve the biggest tract of virgin hardwood left in the country began to fire the imagination and win the support of conservationists everywhere.
Members joined from a dozen states, as far away as Georgia and Kansas, California and New York. The membership list read like a “Who’s Who of American Conservationists.” It included such prominent names as those of Vice President Henry Wallace; Chase S. Osborn, former Governor of Michigan; Aldo Leopold of the University of Wisconsin; Newton B. Drury, director of the National Park Service; William Allen White, renowned Kansas editor; Willard Van Name of the American Museum of Natural History; Jay Price, regional forester of the United States Forest Service, and Mrs. Edward LaBudde of the Women’s Conservation League of America.
Conservation groups from coast to coast offered their help. The Wisconsin Conservation League, with 200,000 members, threw its weight into the fight, as did the Izaak Walton League of America, the National Wildlife Federation, the American Forestry Association, the Federated Garden Clubs of America, the Emergency Conservation Committee, the National Parks Association, the National Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, the Upper Peninsula Development Bureau, the Northern Michigan Sportsman’s Association and other influential outfits.
Money started to come in in sums adequate to finance the battle. Ray Dick himself, all but knocked off his feet by the country-wide response, gathered his forces and drove ahead harder than ever.
Writers and photographers loosed a flood of publicity. Stories and pictures of the Porcupine wilderness appeared in newspapers in Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Boston, Cleveland and other cities and in national magazines. An exciting description of the wild beauty of the region even made its way into the Congressional Record. Sportsmen in cities a thousand miles distant came to know almost as much about the Porcupines as they knew about their favorite rabbit swales, 10 miles from home.
World War II came on, and the attention of the nation, even of its conservationists, was diverted to other problems. Less and less thought went to saving our natural wealth, more and more to using it to buy the victory we had to have. But Ray Dick wouldn’t give up. He still refused to stand by and see the wilderness he loved converted into a denuded, fire-blackened wasteland. Peace would come back some day, he argued, and when that happened, the country was going to need places like the Porcupines again for their wilderness and beauty, their forests and fish and game. And across the country members of the association that he had fathered and spark-plugged never stopped preaching the same doctrine.
They kept hammering away, harping at their pet idea, not letting the crusade lag. And at last they won a powerful ally in P.J. Hoffmaster, director of the Michigan Department of Conservation.

Springtime, Summertime, Bug Time

Most of the snow has melted. Hikers can still find some in the deep woods in the backcountry. Every waterfall in the park is pouring over its bedrock; you can hear the roar for hundreds of yards from falls that will have subsided to a trickle when July rolls around. Trout lilies and marsh marigolds are blooming, trillium buds are about to pop.

Then they strike. The winged hoard. Face it; the Porkies is wilderness. Wilderness means bugs. And the Porkies bugs are, mostly, biters who thrive on the tender offerings of hikers and campers. Whether you’re coming to camp or to hike, here are a few tips about what to pack.

1. Pack loose fitting clothes. If the clothing fabric isn’t snugged tight to your body, the bugs will have a harder time getting to you. Some of our biting critters seem to be attracted to white and blue, so you may want to avoid those colors. Plan on tucking pants legs into the tops of your socks for extra protection from ticks.

2. Don’t forget your head. At the very least, pack a hat or bandana. When I’ve hiked hatless, I’ve often been distracted by groups of flies circling right above the crown of my head. A head net is even better for keeping flies and other biters away from your face and eyes.

3. Bring a generous supply of insect repellent, and use it. Spray it on your clothes. Spray some on a scarf or bandana to wrap around your neck. Put some extra into a day pack.

4. Don’t forget the calamine lotion or other itch-calming product. I was once caught in the midst of no-see-um season in Canada without anything that would take away the itching from the bites of those tiny creatures.

The worst of the bug season is late spring and early summer, May into June. August and September can be relatively bug-free. The worst of the bugs are, by far, the stable flies. They look like house flies, and they bite like piranha. Their bites hurt, and they bleed. No repellent known to man keeps stable flies away. If you’re here during a hatch, the best tactic is to go where they aren’t. If they are at the shore, find recreation elsewhere. There are several attractions in the area that will provide refuge. If there’s a strong on shore breeze, chances are the lakeshore is a good place to be.

Locals tell me that prior to the 1970s, the area was sprayed extensively with products like DDT. The pay-off was few bugs. The price? No eagles, no peregrine falcons, no smaller raptors. The Porkies is a richer wilderness with its bugs and birds.

Preserving the Porkies

Preserving the Porkies: a New Strategy Is Born
From Porcupine Mountains Crusade, 1978 by Ben East, Michigan Conservation Hall of Fame
Ray Dick led the campfire conversation, telling of the fight he had been making, almost single-handed, in the hope of keeping the loggers out of these valleys along the Carp and the Little Carp and the Presque Isle.
“We know what we need to do,” Dick said. “Our job is to persuade the United States or the State of Michigan to come in and buy the whole 50,000 acres before it’s too late, and keep it the way it is! A few of us have been preaching that for years, but we’re not making much headway.”
A produce dealer in the town of Ironwood, 30 miles west of the mountains, Dick had crusaded for the preservation of this beloved wilderness, where he had hunted and fished for years. He had talked to everybody who would listen. He had gone to other businessmen in the community, he had written countless letters, he had pestered state and local officials and political leaders. For the most part, they agreed with him, but there their interest seemed to fade out.
A local congressman, Frank Hook, had gone so far as to introduce a bill in Congress proposing to set aside $10 million to purchase the Porcupine wilderness and add it to the Ottawa National Forest which already took in a big share of three cutover counties in the Upper Peninsula. But the bill had bogged down, and nobody believed it had much chance of passing.
“Too much money,” Ray explained, “and anyway, Congress is against appropriating funds to buy forest land in individual states. Logging crews are nibbling at the edges right now. Five years from tonight will be too late as far as a lot of this is concerned.”
I chewed on the problem for a minute or two. “What you need is outside help,” I suggested. “There are a lot of folks around the country who love this kind of place as much as you and I do. Some of them have influence. If you could get them into your fight, you might win.”
“We realize that,” Dick agreed, “but how do we go about it?”
There was another long, thoughtful pause. Then somebody came up with a suggestion. “Why not organize a Save-the-Porcupines Association, nationwide?”
“Sure,” another chimed in. “Invite anybody, anywhere, to join who wants to see this country kept the way it is.”
I could see the idea catching on in Ray Dick, starting to burn like the lightning of a slow fuse on a powder keg. None of us guessed it at the time, but what we were witnessing that night was the turning point in the long and uphill battle to keep the wilderness of the Porcupines untouched.

Trout Lilies: Signaling Spring

The Trout Lily is a spring ephemeral – perennial woodland plants that sprout from the ground early each spring. You’ll see it in the time between snowmelt and leafing out of deciduous trees. These flowers spring up quickly, seed before the canopy leaves are out, and then vanish leaving their roots and bulbs to hibernate and wait for another spring.
The plants are low to the ground. Leaves are mottled with brown and are lance-shaped with smooth edges, and each plant boasts a single bloom.
Look for the Trout Lily in mid-April to early May along the edges of trails.

Evening at the Fishing Canp

Evening at the Fishing Camp
Text by Ben East, a member of the Michigan Conservation Hall of Fame and legendary outdoor writer for Outdoor Life.
There were five in our fishing party, Ray and Bud (Dick), Ed Johnson, Walt Speaker and I. We sat around a dying fire that night and watched the round, yellow, full moon of May come up over the trees, square in the notch where the river broke down out of the hills. The surf of Lake Superior rolled in and sighed on the rocky beach in front of our camp, the Carp chuckled and blustered through its last stretch of rapids only a few steps away. And just as the moon rose clear of the trees a brush wolf howled somewhere back I the ridges.
“How do you like it?” Ray Dick asked me.
“I’ve never had a place hit me quite so hard,” I admitted. “How far are we from the nearest road?”
“We’re about eight miles from Lake of the Clouds, as the crow flies,” Ray said. “Maybe half again that far if you follow the river. There’s no road this side of the lake. The other way, to the west, it’s six miles to the mouth of the Presque Isle, where we stopped this morning on the way down here. There’s no road there yet, but Gogebic County is building one. They’re only a few miles away. They’ll be at the mouth in another year or two. That will still leave a strip of country 12 or 15 miles long.”
There’s about 50,000 acres in here, all told, that’s still the way the lord made it! A chunk the size of two townships. Not a foot of road, hardly a trail. If you want to see it you walk, or come in by boat the way we did today. It’s never seen an ax, never been burned. The United States Forest Service says it’s the biggest stand of virgin hardwood left in the country!”
I knew what the other four men around the fire were thinking. “And it’s bound to be logged,” I said slowly.
Ray blazed up. “It’s bound to be logged unless we prevent it!” he shot back. “If we let that happen, it will be the biggest crime the State of Michigan has committed in your lifetime or mine.
“Do you really think it can be helped?” I asked finally. “It never has been up to now, you know, not in this part of the country.”
Ray leaned closer across the fire. “It’s got to be helped” he said flatly.

Celebrating 75 Years!

Hard work and advocacy by many, from local businessman Raymond Dick to Michigan Governor Harry Kelly and president Franklin D. Roosevelt secured “the great uncut,” the ancient forests of the Porcupine Mountains, for future generations.

It All Started with a Fishing Trip

It happened on about the third or fourth cast. Bud Dick was standing on a shelf of rock that sloped down and vanished in the dark water of the pool. Above him the river came frothing and raging in through a short steep chute. Fifty yards below it spilled out again in a three-foot drop.