Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 8, 2013

Scout rescues Old Indian Trail markers from oblivion

BY LORAINE ANDERSON landerson@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY – An old Indian trail between Cadillac and Traverse City has a new pathfinder and preserver.

Soon-to-be Eagle Scout Woody Unruh, 16, expects to complete his repair and refurbishing of 33 concrete markers along the 50-mile-long trail by Oct. 15. A member of Boy Scout Troop 105 in Lake Ann, Unruh has worked on the service project for more than a year.

He got the idea from Joel Wright, the troop’s Eagle badge mentor who had been saving the project for just the right person.

“Then along came Woody,” Wright said.

Unruh, of Cedar, is a member Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.

“I thought it would be good to learn more about my heritage and also preserve part of the tribe,” he said.

The Little Traverse Bay Bands gave Unruh a $500 grant to pay for paint, brushes replacement aluminum plaques and new concrete markers for two that were destroyed.

The trail dates back to “mound builder “ Indians who inhabited Michigan thousands of years ago and created a vast network of trails and portages later used by Ottawa, Chippewa and Potawatomi Indians as well as early white settlers, who relied on them, the late Marje Holland wrote in a local history booklet “Cadillac to Traverse City Indian Trail.”

In the 1940s, retired Cadillac farmer Milo Petoskey Crosby and Jim Pontiac, then 96, plotted out and later erected the first 14 markers. James Comp and Edward Babcock installed five more during the early 1960s.

Little Traverse Bands member Frank Ettawageshik, working with the Grand Traverse County Sesquicentennial Advisory Agency, helped place the most recent 14 markers in Grand Traverse County during the 1980s as part of the state’s 150th birthday celebration.

Ettawageshik served as Little Traverse Bay Bands tribal chairman 1991-1999 and 2005-2009 and was one of the people Unruh interviewed for the project.

Holland’s son, Michael, who now lives in Traverse City, refurbished the 33 markers in 2002 to honor his mother and also ensure that they would last another 20 years. Marje Holland was a former area teacher, Girl Scout leader and Wexford County Historical Museum president who died in 2000.

Unruh’s first step — finding the 3-foot-tall markers — took two weekends. His father, Frank Unruh, drove him down many a back road between the two cities and old instructions often referred to landmarks or sites which no longer exist or are obstructed from view. The trail crosses many private parcels so directions for following it are provided for viewing by car.

“It was quite an accomplishment,” Woody said of the search.

Marker 1 is in Hiawatha Park in Cadillac on the northeast end of Mitchell Lake. Marker 33 is on Traverse City’s West End Beach, near the restrooms next to the TART trails. Some markers are in people’s backyards. Marker 32 is at the intersection of Cass and Lake Streets across from the Hager building along the Boardman River.

Marker 16 once was an Indian village back in the woods along the Manistee River near what today is Mesick and Sherman.

Bullet holes pierce some stones. One sits at the bottom of the Manistee River near Mesick. Another three fell over near Cadillac and had to be reset.

Unruh also will update and produce a detailed brochure on the trail and markers. He also is putting the finishing touches on a Google map. He also has taken photos of each marker before and after restoration.

What has he learned since Jan. 22, 2012, when he decided take on the project?

“It helped me figure out the area and the trail,” he said. “I didn’t know the trail’s history or even what it was when I began. I also learned how much some people really appreciate the stones.”

The project also has given him an idea for his senior project at Glen Lake High School during the 2014-2015 school year. He would like to establish a Friends of the Indian Trail organization to recruit people who live along the trail to care for the markers.

“That would help keep the trail around longer,” he said.