The Anne and Cameron Waterman Preserve at Mt. Benison
is a special hiking destination surrounded completely by the Huron Mountain Club. The preserve is operated by The Nature Conservancy and while it is open to the public, it is limited to guided access only due to its location.
I happened to be looking up peaks in Marquette County to see if anything came up and I came across this preserve. It is stated that access to the preserve is by staff-led field trips and volunteer days only. I contacted about visiting, but I didn't get my hopes up because I wasn't sure what the chances were of visiting. After waiting over a month for a reply, I happened to check my spam folder to see that someone had replied within a week. It had said that it would be possible but they wanted some more information. Eventually we had set a date for staff-led field trip and I became very excited to visit.
This ended up being one of the best hikes that I have ever done. We drove out to Big Bay from Marquette and took the Huron Mountain Club Rd to the gate. The man verified who was with us, opened the gate and gave us a key for another gate. The drive through the HMC was very long, but very exciting being able to see an area that many never have. The day was very dark and cloudy, so we couldn't see very far that morning. However, hints of lakes could seen. Compared to the typical UP woods, the woods here were all old growth forest with huge trees and a lack of undergrowth.
While the scenery was nice, it took over 40 minutes for us to drive across to the preserve going only 10 mph on undeveloped roads before finally reaching the second gate. Beyond the second gate, we only traveled a little ways until the truck could go no further. Then, we walked the road to the preserve. There were many trails leading off to different hills and lakes that we past. It was so tempting to head off on these (especially on the way back), but it was strictly prohibited. The Nature Conservancy is granted to access to reach their preserve, but that is it, the other land is still off limits. Finally reaching the preserve, we traversed rugged, pristine land by the guide of a GPS and maps. This was really my first off trail hike and I must say that I greatly enjoyed it. Although, I think I would need some training to be able to do it without the help of a guide.
The preserve is quite large, so we only hiked a small portion of it in the northeast corner. We ended up making a loop, first heading to the Mink Run Creek and then up on a ridge for some views. The Mink Run Creek was crystal clear and had little drops creating pristine and mystifying scenes unlike anything I had ever seen. The views were quite limited. There really was only one or two places that you could even see beyond the trees and with the weather being so foggy you couldn't see very far. However, it did make a neat effect for the photos with all the layers of the Hurons. We were looking to the South and could see what I believe was Mountain Lake.
Anyone interested in visiting should contact The Nature Conservancy. It sounded like they've made a visit to the preserve each fall since they acquired the land, but I have no idea of how often they plan on returning. This provides a wonderful opportunity for anyone who is wanting to see the HMC. Another option to see the HMC is through the Marquette County History Museum's fundraiser at Ives Lake. In the past it has included a meal, some history and a hike up the Breakfast Roll. They plan on doing it again in Spring/Summer 2010.