“Of all the places I’ve worked here in Michigan, this is my favorite place to collect my senses, do a little meditating and get rid of my problems. It’s like a soothing balm.” Those are the words of Ray Westbrook, a retired DNR staffer, for a remarkable overlook above the Manistee River, the Buckley High Roll-Away.
Like any notable landmark without an official name, this one goes by several aliases—Horseshoe Bend Overlook, Lookout Point or the Highbanks Overlook—not to mention spelling variations. Depends who you ask.
Stand atop the Roll-Away and the scenery is for certain. From the lookout it’s 200 feet down, and before you the valley curls up like a vast bowl, taking in a viewscape of almost 130 square miles of dense pine and hardwood forest. The bowl’s rim, a ridge, runs roughly from Manton in the east, around to Meauwataka and Harrietta in the south (you’ll see the distant radio towers), and on the west to Mesick.
Here, more than a century ago, the expanse of treetops inspired awe among those who saw wealth in the more than 1.2 billion board feet of lumber in the upper Manistee River basin. Surveying the area in 1869 for the Manistee River Improvement Company, A.S. Wordsworth wrote, “This river is the great highway that penetrates the vast pine region of Manistee. … It is without doubt the best logging stream in the world, and all along its circuitous path, reaching far away, it seems to bear mute testimony to the wonderful wisdom of the Creator.”
Lumbermen like Wordsworth not only gushed with praise for the Manistee but also viewed the river’s steep banks with practicality—a way to launch giant timbers into the river and on to sawmills waiting in Manistee. When lumbermen first used the Buckley Roll-Away is unknown, but it was apparently after 1869, when Wordsworth noted a number of ancient natural river jams in the area. Roll-aways already scarred the riverbank downriver when Wordsworth made his trip.
Loggers were not particularly sensitive to safety or cultural differences when giving logs a toss. Wordsworth again: “The loggers seemed to delight in pitching their sawlogs at us, as we were passing down these steep declivities of over 100 feet, thinking we were Indians. Lo, the poor Indian!”
Today locals gather there for Easter daybreak services (when the road is passable), weddings and ever-popular smooching, but so much use erodes the bank. “People are loving it to death,” Westbrook says. Preservationists requested state money to build such protections as a deck and parking area.
To get there, head south of Traverse City on M-37 to Buckley. From the blinking light, head east on Buckley Road to the first stop sign (N17) and turn right. Go to the next stop sign (W4) and turn left. Follow the blacktop about 3.75 miles, and where the road curves sharply left, go straight onto a well-traveled dirt road. Follow it as it winds through forest and meadow. Stop at the Road Ends sign. Overlook is to the right. Breathe deeply.