Even though we've had several weeks of summerlike weather already this spring, the Memorial Day weekend unofficially kicks off the summer season in the Upper Peninsula.
Included in the outdoor activities we like to enjoy during this time of year are backwoods hikes and bicycle rides, boating, fishing, picnicking, camping, swimming, bird watching, sightseeing and cruising along the abundant woods roads that crisscross the peninsula.
There are countless locations in the U.P.. to partake in these activities, too, seeing we have literally millions of acres open to the public that include rivers, lakes, ponds, hiking and biking trails, campgrounds and just plain woods.
Society of America Foresters Upper Peninsula Auto Tour sign No. 3 in front of a red pine stand along Marquette County Road 550. (Journal photo by Dave Schneider)
In fact, there are about 8.7 million acres of U.P. forestlands that contain a wide variety of tree species and forest types. The vast majority of that acreage is open to the public and is, in fact, used by many residents and visitors to the area.
I've always found the many different tree species interesting, although it's difficult at times to identify all of them. A good tree identification guide can help, much like a bird ID book can make birding more interesting.
There's another resources available that not only helps you identify trees, but provides information on the significance of them to the people, wildlife and environment of the U.P.
This educational and fun tool is the U.P. Forestry Auto Tour that is sponsored by the Michigan Chapter of the Society of American Foresters and the Michigan Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
Many motorists across the U.P. have probably seen the markers that are part of the tour, and maybe even wondered what the white and green signs with a number on them was. I first wondered about the signs several years ago and upon looking in to the matter found that the SAF compiled a brochure that explains the self-guided tour and what forest feature each number represents.
Included in tree types are:
No. 1 - aspen
No. 2 - white birch
No. 3 - red pine
No. 4 - white pine
No. 5 - jack pine
No. 6 - northern hardwoods
No. 7 - eastern hemlock
No. 8 - spruce-fir
No. 9 - cedar
The tour also identifies three sites that are often encountered on a trip across the U.P., including grass openings, No. 10; locations of wildfire, No. 11; and old growth areas; No. 12.
The brochure includes more than 121 locations across the U.P. that are marked with one of the aforementioned signs.
The brochure - as well as the SAF Michigan Chapter's website at www.michigansaf.org/Tours/AutoTourUP/MainPage.htm - also contains interesting descriptions on each tree type, including its natural characteristics, historical significance and economic aspects.
For example, the information on the white pine includes, in part:
"White pine was the major species of the lumber industry in the late 1800s. Almost everything from ships' masts to matches, including doors, flooring, framing, trim, crating and novelties have been made from this wood. ...
"Abundant in the Upper Peninsula, white pine grows well on a wide variety of sites: from sandy soils to clay soils, on dunes as well as mounds in swamps, and flood plains, on rock ridges and outcrops. ...
"White pine of the original Michigan forests grew to be 200 to 250 years old, with trunks 6 feet in diameter and a height of 250 feet!"
Learning more about trees that are nestled along the highways and byways of the U.P. can make a summer cruise much more enjoyable, and the auto tour brochure can provide that knowledge.
They are available at Michigan visitors centers and can be requested by mail by calling Michigan State University Extension Service offices in the U.P. or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's note: City Editor Dave Schneider can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His e-mail address is email@example.com.