Len McDougall, Outdoor Writer
2004-01-14 11:29:18 UTC
Old Yooper, that questioned whether the log cabin homestead I built as
the subject of my last book was really in a wilderness. I'll
temporarily overlook the fact that this monkey wrench is calling me a
To answer his challenges on that subject, it took more than 3 hours
to reach Petoskey, the town where I resupplied, in summer, and about
4.5 hours in winter. In summer, it was more than 1.5 miles on foot
through rugged swamp to the end of a 3-mile 2 track that was as close
as a vehicle could get. Getting to the nearest road through that
4.5-mile stretch - all of it through uninhabited Odawa reservation and
public lands - took 2 hours or longer, depending on the load I was
carrying on my back. From there, it was a 38-mile drive to Petoskey.
Essentially, a trip to town and back took all day, just as it had in
The cabin itself sits in a region encompassing 60 square miles that
are broken by only 1 hiking trail. Beyond the single nearest paved
road are another roughly 80 square miles of public and reservation
land. I will not, as Old Yooper foolishly suggested, give exact
coordinates to the homestead, because that would entice vandals. The
area more than meets Old Yooper's stated criteria for wilderness by
being untracked, unknown, and uncultivated.
In the 15 months I spent living in that wilderness, not one
stranger even approached the cabin site, and now, nearly 3 years
later, it remains unfound. The reason for that is because even locals
fear those glacial-dune forests, and if a hiker isn't skilled with
both map and compass, he should never leave the trail. I'm not
kidding; several people have had to be rescued from that area by local
SAR teams in the past few years.
My own criteria for calling a place wilderness also has to do with
lack of roads and people, but mostly with the wild species that tend
to avoid them. The forest my log cabin sits in is home to gray
wolves, cougar, wapiti, fishers, bald eagles, ospreys, sandhill
cranes, loons, blue herons, and other species too numerous to mention.
These aren't animals I think might be there, these are animals I've
Unfortunately, the French Farm Lake/Wilderness State Park region
really is the last remaining wilderness in Michigan's Lower Peninsula.
While I was there, I defended it, running off illegal ORVS (which are
prohibited), and forcing drunks to clean up their party messes on the
shoreline of French Farm Lake. Now that no one actually lives there,
my friends who backpack in the area tell me that the criminals have
gone wantonly berserk, and the Department of Natural Resources refuses
to enforce its own laws. I guess it isn't my problem any more, but it
saddens me that our species is the only one on earth that prefers to
shit in its own cage. I haven't returned to the homestead since I
left, nearly 2 years ago, because I want to remember the forest as it
was, and I know that seeing what the bad people have done to that
hallowed place will tear my heart out.
So, Old Yooper, if you still think my homestead isn't in
wilderness, maybe you'd like to try to find it? Better yet, perhaps
you could read The Log Cabin: (borrow a copy from the Public Library),
that way you could present an informed opinion.
Len McDougall, author of the books: The Log Cabin: An Adventure in
Individualism, Self-Reliance, and Cabin Building, The Complete
Tracker, The Field & Stream Wilderness Survival Handbook, The Snowshoe
Handbook, Practical Outdoor Projects, The Outdoors Almanac, Made for
the Outdoors, Practical Outdoor Survival