Lansing – Reining in out-of-control recreational activities in
in the Pigeon River Country State Forest continues to be a
Dozens of equestrian supporters jammed into the conference room
at Lansing Community College on April 10 for the monthly Natural
Resources Commission meeting to plead their case for continued
unbridled access to “The Big Wild.”
At issue is the fact that a significant portion of the PRC was
purchased with state Game and Fish Fund money (hunting and fishing
license fees) as well as federal excise taxes on sporting goods.
That means the DNR is mandated by law to manage the PRC primarily
for hunting and fishing and to preserve that opportunity in
perpetuity. Some recreational activities currently taking place in
the PRC are not compatible with hunting and fishing.
The PRC consists of approximately 177 square miles of pristine
northern Michigan wilderness. It is the largest uninterrupted wild
area in the Lower Peninsula and is the home of Michigan’s elk
P.S. Lovejoy, the primary architect of the Michigan Conservation
Department – now called the DNR – dubbed the PRC area “The Big
Wild” in the early 1920s and established the framework to designate
the PRC. The management objectives for the PRC then and now are to
maintain the natural beauty of the PRC’s forests and waters, and to
sustain a healthy elk herd, and fish and wildlife populations.
In recent years the integrity of that wild area and the ability
to hunt and fish in it has been compromised through increased
recreational use in the way of horseback riding, mountain bike
riding, snowmobiling, and other recreational activities.
With these rapidly increasing recreational uses, which are not
always compatible with with management goals for the PRC, the DNR
was forced to update its management plan.
“The last update was in 1985, but there have been things
happening out there since then,”
Mindy Koch, the DNR’s resource management deputy told the
Natural Resources Commission. “There is increasing recreational
use, there has been development around the Pigeon River Country
State Forest, and we’ve increased the size of the Pigeon River
Country State Forest. In 2005, a 10-person steering committee was
charged with updating the concept for management.”
Seven sub-committees also were formed and reported directly to
the steering committee. The user groups involved in the use of the
PRC were included in the discussion on the updating process.
Last year, the concept for management was approved and is now
being implemented. Because it is just a concept of management,
implementation of the changes must be approved by the DNR director
through land use orders and through the public process.
In December of 2007, DNR Director Rebecca Humphries approved a
land use order restricting the use of snowmobiles in the PRC. She
is expected to take action at the May 8 NRC meeting in Lansing on
an order that would open for public use seven former research
lakes, and restrict where horses and bicycles are allowed.
Under the order, camping with horses would be limited to the Elk
Hill Equestrian State Forest Campground and Trail Camp and
Johnson’s Crossing Trail Camp. Horseback riding would be limited to
the north spur of the Shore-to-Shore Trail, county roads, forest
roads designated as open to horseback riding, and service trail
roads that are posted as open by the DNR.
For bicyclists, particularly mountain bikers, riders would be
restricted to the High Country Pathway, the Shinglemill Pathway,
the Pickerel Lake Pathway, county roads, and forest roads
designated as open on the PRC State Forest access map.
“We’re trying to find a middle ground that allows as much
recreational opportunity as possible, but still maintains the
wilderness,” Koch said.
The lakes that would be opened for public fishing under the land
use order are Hemlock Lake in Cheboygan County, and Ford Lake, West
Lost Lake, Section Four Lake, Lost Lake, North Twin Lake, and South
Twin Lake, all in Otsego County.
No motorized or non-motorized crafts could be launched from
state land on Section Four, Lost, North Twin, and South Twin, with
the exception of float tubes. Only non-motorized crafts or those
using electronic motors could be launched from state land on
Hemlock, Ford, and West Lost Lake.
The Concept of Management for the Pigeon River Country State
Forest is available for review on the DNR website at