A Walk on the BLUE TRAIL
Years ago, when snowmobiles were first introduced to Beaver Island, a group of men (Bill Wagner, Dick Burris, and Walter Wojan among them) decided to open some trails to provide winter traverse through the great forest wetland occupying the Island's lower third. They blazed three, marking the way with cans of spray paint from Dick's store. They might have created more, if more colors had been available.
The longest of them was the Blue Trail (so called because it was marked with blue) ran from the site of "Oil Well #1" (at the South End of the gravel-and-corduroy extension of the King's Highway) to the Beaver Head Light. Meandering through forests of cedar, poplar, and birch, and skirting bogs and meadows, it provided spectacular views of many kinds of the terrain and flora and fauna available on Beaver Island.
It was a popular expedition for awhile, but then, as popular activities tend to do, it fell into disuse. Other trails became more favored. The annual chain-sawing parties were abandoned, and the blue splats that had been applied to trees from snowmobiles passing at high speeds began to fade.
In the early 80's, a group of kids stationed at the Beaver Head Light was given the assignment of reopening the trail by their mentor -- Audrey Wojan, Walter's daughter. They worked all summer, changing it from a winter-only trail to a year-around walking path by clearing out more brush and building three kinds of bridges over and around the wettest spots. Two of these involved on-site materials. In spots, long poles, 10'+ and 3-5" in diameter, were placed parallel to the trail's direction. Elsewhere 24-30"-long, narrower poles were laid down perpendicularly to the path. The third type was made from donated, locally-sawn planks nailed to pairs of larger parallel poles. At the most precarious crossings, helpful railings were installed.
It was quite an accomplishment, and opened up a vast, unexplored territory for the adventurous tourist. But once again, after the initial excitement had worn off, the Blue Trail fell into disrepair.
Enter the Townships' Trail Committee, under the able on-site direction of master-of-everything Doug Tilley. Somemayl recall his discovery a few years ago of a budding forest fire part way down this trail, and his alert actions to prevent it from devastating the woods. He has been working to open up this trail again, sometimes with help (including by Beaver Island's Boy Scout Troop) and sometimes by himself. He has done a wonderful job so far, but much work remains.
A month ago, before the sleeping insects awoke, a local couple started walking it from the north after an early supper. Fallen trees had been cut away, making it an easy hike. A quarter mile in, they veered off briefly to explore what seemed like a possible old clearing. There a few small stone piles, but no other signs of past habitation.
Back on the trail, pausing on occasion to listen to the bird calls and distant crashings through the brush, they found still-existent remains of the earlier bridges that alloweed them to ford pools of marshland or standing water.
Another interesting feature of this land was the preponderance of above-ground roots crossing the trail. Years of footprints have polished the highest of them into a petrified sheen.
A mile in, they ran across a new trail heading east, marked with yellow spots that were sometimes circled in red. They followed it for awile, guessing (correctly) that it would take them to the Bill Wagner Memorial Campground, named for the Island's last full-time DNR official.. Then they returned to the Blue Trail, and plunged further south.
After another quarter mile, they came to a truly spectacular site: an immense calm, flat pond stretching off to the west, held in place by a beaver dam built against the narrow band of higher ground that had formed the trail. At its center there was a second, smaller dam. The focal point of its arc was opposite that of the primary dam, so that a teardrop-shaped pool, perhaps 5' x 15', had been formed -- no doubt a private "cold tub" for the Beaver King and his admiring retinue. A 30-year-old maple was still growing at the bottom, with the water 2' up its stately trunk.
Using the railing as support, this couple ventured to almost the midpoint, seeing a sequence of subsidiary earthworks to the east to contain spillovers. Sticks that had been gnawed and dragged to the jetty were only half covered with mud, in which the workers' paw prints were as clear as the dinosaur impressions in the La Brea Tar Pits. In the surrounding treetops, courting birds were proclaiming their zest, and from hidden vantage points the inhabitants of this tranquil paradise were no doubt watching and hoping that the clumsy human interlopers would soon depart.
After ten minutes of awe-struck silence, they turned back to the north. Dusk was upon them, and crossing the dam would have been tricky enough with ample light. It's a good thing they did, for if they had ventured another quarter mile, the intense wonderment of their experience would have been shattered by an encounter with the unthinkable: posted land. "Keep Out" of this particular middle-of-no-where. My God! If this had happened to the Kuebler Trail (to cite one much-recently-discussed example of private property's potential abrogation of public custom and public good) Karl's one-armed ghost would have turned over in its grave.
It seems a shame that the trail must now be rerouted to skirt this isolated forty. Can't a better solution possibly be found?
Lately people have been saying that the Island's bullfrog population is depleted. A CMU biologist reported that they could only be found in a few areas, such as Sweeney's Swamp. But the family camping on the eastern edge of the field south of Hannigan's Road, in the section between the East Side Road and the King's Highway, reported that bullfrogs kept them from sleeping. So, despite the insects now being out, it seemed appropriate to take some time away from the flurry of summer activity and see what kind of frog life could be found at this beaver dam on the Blue trail. We hiked down it on June 20th, starting at about 3:00 p.m., and are happy to report that at least in this area, the Island's frogs are thriving.