In 1903, a team of workers under the direction of newly-appointed State Forest Warden Filibert Roth pondered the stump-ridden, sand on the north shore of Higgins Lake. Once a thriving native forest, the nearly barren landscape had suffered from aggressive lumbering and a series of fires in the late 19th century. To address the problem, the Michigan legislature established the Michigan Forestry Commission to replant trees and create the state’s first tree nursery and forest reserve.
Within a year, Roth and his workers had planted 43 pounds of seed on the site, representing 12 different pine species. It was an experimental venture, and in his first official report, Roth noted, “Considerable damage was done [to the seed beds] by birds but far more by the ordinary stripped gopher which proved quite a pest and in spite of a shot gun completely destroyed all seeds of nut and sugar pine and much of white pine.”
Nonetheless, more than 600,000 seedlings were thriving in 1904 and, by 1906, Roth’s team had successfully cultivated 27 different species of trees. By 1926, the nursery was shipping 22 million seedlings across the state and nation.
In 1933, the Higgins Lake Civilian Conservation Corps Camp began working at the tree nursery. Born during the Great Depression by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Civilian Conservation Corps (or CCC) employed young men in many public works projects, including “the preservation of forest fires, floods, soil erosion, plant, pest and disease control.” In Michigan, thousands of recruits planted trees and fought forest fires across the northern Lower and Upper Peninsula.
By 1942, when the CCC program ended, Michigan workers had planted 484 million trees, more than twice the amount of any other state.
In the early 1960s, with initial reforestation largely completed, the Higgins Lake Nursery ceased operation.
Today, the land on which the original Higgins Lake Nursery and Civilian Conservation Corps Camp stood is heavily forested, and includes North Higgins Lake State Park and the Civilian Conservation Corp Museum.
The museum tells the stories of Michigan's first tree nursery, as well as the Civilian Conservation Corps in Michigan.
Among the many achievements of the Michigan CCC men were planting 484 million trees, as told by the historical marker on the museum grounds.
The museum immerses visitors in the life of the CCC men, showing how they lived and worked at the camp.
Many personal mementos from former CCC members are displayed at the Museum at North Higgins Lake State Park.