I made it to the Timbers Recreation Area to hike the trails for the first time earlier this summer, and it’s now one of my “new” favorite go-to spots for a quick, scenic hike. But I have a feeling that it’s yet to be discovered by a lot of area park users.
It became a recreation area in 2014 and is still being discovered by the region’s hiking community. The 250-acre preserve was protected by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy and is owned by Long Lake Township. The unique property has around 9,000 feet of water frontage, with 2,000 feet of that on Long Lake and the rest on 20-acre Fern Lake and Page Lake.
The property has a long, interesting history. In the early 1900s it was the backwoods retreat for meat mogul J. Ogden Armour and his family and later became a Girl Scouts camp from the 1960s until 2009. The conservancy and township were able to team up and acquire the parcel with the assistance of Michigan Resources Trust Fund. Some of the old buildings from the Armour era still remain, including a barn and silo decked out in handsome glazed brick. It’s a stunning sight as you first head down the trail from the parking lot.
A few reminders from the Girl Scouts days — probably created by the Scouts — also still remain. As you hike the trails you’ll see some boarded-up administrative and common buildings as well as wooden platforms scattered through the forest that once supported their large canvas tents. They don’t really detract from the area, just reminder visitors of what was here over the last century.
Old trails and two-tracks meander across the property, down to Long Lake, around Fern Lake, and into the upland meadows and forests. The remnant of a beautiful old stone bridge suddenly appears along an old two-track near Long Lake. You stumble across past reminders as you hike around the preserve. Dark, fern-filled hemlock woods surround the lakes, which is where I began my hike. The upland meadows are covered with blackberry bushes and fields of waist-high grass as you hike towards a picturesque forest canopy filled with maples and beeches.
It’s not a long hike, around two-and-half-miles as you pass through different zones ranging from wetlands, lakes, hemlock forests, upland meadows and a hardwood forest. You have a little uphill as you cross the meadow area and enter the forest on the other side. The trail map rates the section through the woods heading back to the trailhead as “steep;” maybe for cross-country skiing, but not for hiking.
The property has both ecological and historical value to Long Lake Township and many area residents, especially many former Girl Scouts attendees, with over 50 years of summer camps. Former staff members and campers helped raise funds to purchase the Timbers Recreation Area so it could be preserved. The land also offers important protection to the Long Lake watershed and helps preserves the water quality.
It’s something that all involved can be proud of initiating, and a special place that we can enjoy all seasons of the year. If you haven’t yet explored the Recreation Area, put it on your list. I can’t wait to hike it this fall with all those hardwood hills aglow with color.