Snowshoeing the U.P.'s McCormick Outback

To get an idea of how obscure the Bentley Trail has become, consider that Foye had made a number of trips over the course of five years into the McCormick Wilderness before he ever laid eyes on the trail. In early 2000, a woman from Big Bay, Cynthia Pryor, called him to say that she and some others hoped to map the trail before it vanished forever. She asked if he'd be in charge of trail identification in the McCormick Wilderness.

Foye agreed, and on the first Saturday of May 2000 he met a half dozen people at a store in Big Bay to seek a trail first cut nearly a century ago. They had old maps, but met with little success. The day reached 85 degrees and the team "stumbled around in the woods and ran out of water but never found the trail," Foye says. But when they were heading back, they discovered a trail that ran northeast-southwest. They ruled it out because it didn't comport with the old maps, but the search party followed it anyway. It led to the field where Foye instructed us to dig our snow trenches, the site of an old lumber camp. "We were really discouraged," Foye says. The next day, somebody suggested they follow the trail some more to see where it led. "We'd lose it periodically, find it again, and sure enough it ran to the falls at the West Branch of the Yellow Dog," Foye says. It was the Bentley Trail; the old maps were inaccurate.

Over the course of three years, Foye remapped the entire trail, like Rydholm before him. "I wouldn't say it was an obsession, more of a hobby," he says. The process gave him a kind of historical gratification, a connection to a culture long gone from this wilderness McCormick place.

A thing to know about the Bentley Trail is that nature is not the only force working against its preservation. Saving the public portion of the Bentley Trail is actually illegal. When Cyrus McCormick II's son, Gordon, transferred the land to the Forest Service in 1967, and the government eventually decided to manage it as a wilderness area, that meant there would be no upkeep on the Bentley Trail in the wilderness area. "We offered to have the scout troop adopt the trail, but the Forest Service doesn't want to open it up. They're afraid four wheelers would ride in and leave beer cans around and damage things," Foye says. So as it stands now, if a guy were to, say, chainsaw a tree that fell over the trail or trim branches to make way for a lady with a parasol, he'd be fined. What's more, much of the trail runs through the still private Huron Mountain Club and other privately held parcels. Only about 8 miles are on public land.

The next morning, it's another chill, Styrofoam-snow awakening. When I stomp up and down the bluff to rev my physiology, I notice a beaver-belly trail that makes a giant S across the face of Bulldog Lake.

We hurry through another cold oatmeal glue breakfast, pack quickly and are soon on the trail home. Unbelievably, our sun and blue sky holds another day. We retrace our well-broken trail, and the going is easy. Across the lakes. Past the Fortress bluff. Along the shore of the White Deer Lake party island. The temps warm to about 20 during the walk – winter at its most absolute glorious. Foye pulls a tendon in his foot and has to slow. I feel bad for him, but admit I'm glad for the excuse to extend the journey. I don't want to get back to the car just yet. This McCormick place has me enchanted.

Jeff Smith is editor at Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine. [email protected]

Note: This article was originally published in February 2007 and was updated for the web February 2008.

For over 30 years the staff at Traverse Magazine has written about the history and natural world of our region. For the web series, Traverse Classics, we've reached into our archives to bring our favorites to our audience.

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