Highland State Recreation Area, Michigan

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Highland State Recreation Area, Michigan

Post by DougBidlack » Mon Apr 09, 2018 10:15 pm


Highland State Recreation Area is located just to the North of both Proud Lake State Recreation Area and Kensington Metropark in Oakland County, Michigan. The park encompasses about 5,900 acres and it is best known for the 721 acre Haven Hill Natural Area. Haven Hill was designated as both a Historical as well as a State Natural Area. The historical designation is due to the fact that this is where Edsel and Eleanor Ford built a retreat that later became their home. Edsel was Henry Ford's son and heir to his Motor Company. Edsel and Eleanor broke ground at Haven Hill in 1923 and when they were finished they had built a lodge (their home), barn, gate house, carriage house and riding stables as well as a dam which created Haven Hill Lake, a tennis court, a pool and pool house, a toboggan run, a fountain with semi-formal garden and nature trails. They lived here until Edsel died rather young in 1943. Eleanor sold the property to the State in 1946. Apparently the area has remained largely undisturbed for the last 90 years. Below is a picture of Ellen with her dad, Steve, within the ruins of the old lodge.
The Natural Area designation is said to be due to all of southern Michigan's principal forest types occurring in this small area. These include beech-maple forest, oak-hickory forest, mixed hardwood forest, tamarack swamp and northern white-cedar swamp. The Haven Hill Natural Area is located in the northeastern part of Highland State Recreation Area and the upland soils are generally more moist than those in Kensington while the topography is more hilly than in Proud Lake State Recreation Area. Most of the rest of Highland State Recreation Area is very similar to Kensington but is perhaps a bit more heavily forested and the hills (moraines) are more numerous and taller. A fairly typical scene of the western part of the park follows.
Although more heavily forested than Kensington, there are still plenty of open areas where species like Hill's oak and the ever present Allegheny Mound Ants (Formica exsectoides) reside. Below is a picture of Ellen behind some ant hills. Apparently a single mound can have as many as 250,000 ants including 1,000 queens.
I first started measuring in this park in 2006 but I haven't made all that many measurements yet. In the first two or three years I made the following measurements within the Haven Hill Natural Area. Date of measurement is in parentheses when I know it.
7.63' (91.56") x 127.5' Red Maple (December 2007)
? x 126' White Ash (December 2007 - already dead due to EAB)
? x 123' Tuliptree (December 2006)
4.59' (55.08") x 120' Bitternut Hickory
9.39' (112.68") x 118.5' Northern Red Oak (December 2007)
? x 115.5' Black Cherry
7.27' (87.24") x 114' American Beech
? x 114' Basswood
9.24' (110.88") x 112.5' Bur Oak
9.78' (117.36") x 108' White Oak
RH 10 = 117.90'

In December of 2017 I remeasured all of the above trees except the White Ash which is now on the ground and the Bitternut Hickory. I also measured seven other trees. All of these trees are presented below.
8.05' (96.60') x 130.5' Red Maple - remeasure
7.94' (95.28") x 127.5' Tuliptree - remeasure
? x 126' White Ash - dead and on ground, not remeasured (December 2007)
6.84' (82.08") x 126' Black Cherry - remeasure
10.01' (120.12") x 121.5' Northern Red Oak - remeasure
6.80' (81.60") x 121.5' Red Hickory - new measurement
6.12' (73.44") x 120' Pignut Hickory - new measurement
4.59' (55.08") x 120' Bitternut Hickory - not remeasured
7.43' (89.16") x 118.5' American Beech - remeasure
5.35' (64.20") x 118.5' Basswood - remeasure
RH 10 = 123.00'

Additional trees measured in December 2017
7.33' (87.96") x 114' Red Hickory - new measurement
8.68' (104.16") x 112.5' White Oak - new measurement
9.84' (118.08") x 112.5' Bur Oak - remeasure
10.23' (122.76") x 108' White Oak - remeasure
7.46' (89.52") x 108' Sugar Maple - new measurement
4.22' (50.64") x 73.5' Yellow Birch - new measurement
7.33' (87.96") x 72' Yellow Birch - new measurement

Height records by me for Michigan at time of these measurements
130.5' Red Maple
126' White Ash (tie with tree in Warren Woods)
126' Black Cherry
121.5' Red Hickory (one of only two measured so far)
73.5' Yellow Birch (one of only two measured so far)

Girth records by me for Michigan at time of these measurements
7.33' (87.96") Red Hickory (one of only two measured so far)
7.33' (87.96") Yellow Birch (one of only two measured so far)

I think I correctly identified the red and pignut hickories. This site appears to have many more red hickories than pignut hickories which is the opposite of Kensington Metropark. Here are a couple pictures of hickories where the one I think is red is on the left and pignut on the right. Not real sure about the one on the right though.
I did not measure either one of these trees or rather I should say that I didn't write anything down since they were not tall enough to measure well. The pignut that I did measure had especially tight bark...much more than the one on the right in the above two pictures.


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Re: Highland State Recreation Area, Michigan

Post by ElijahW » Tue Apr 10, 2018 7:25 am


How close is this 130’ Red Maple to the 170’+ one? Just kidding. Highland looks like a pretty sweet site.

Hopefully those better versed in Hickory ID will correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I’ve seen, Red tends to have shaggier bark than Pignut, although both can develop at least some “shag factor” with age. I think your conclusion is reasonable.

In the Tamarack swamps, what is the typical species mix?

"There is nothing in the world to equal the forest as nature made it. The finest formal forest, the most magnificent artificially grown woods, cannot compare with the grandeur of primeval woodland." Bob Marshall, Recreational Limitations to Silviculture in the Adirondacks

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Larry Tucei
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Re: Highland State Recreation Area, Michigan

Post by Larry Tucei » Tue Apr 10, 2018 7:33 am

Doug- Nice report as usual. Looks like a beautiful area and I always enjoy the history. Those ant piles are enormous! Larry

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Re: Highland State Recreation Area, Michigan

Post by DougBidlack » Tue Apr 10, 2018 7:48 am

somehow that 170 footer lost a fair amount of height! Don't know why that keeps happening. I wish I was better differentiating between red and pignut hickories, but probably the best way to do that is to spend more time working on the nuts. Unfortunately that really shaggy one in the picture hasn't produced whenever I look for them. I've planted a few hickories based on the 'shag factor' of their bark. I hope that I'll at least have some trees that look different even if they aren't different species.

yes, I think Highland State Recreation Area, especially the Haven Hill Area, is one of the most beautiful forests in southeastern Michigan. And I just love those huge ant mounds. I just wish people would stop messing with them all the time.


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Re: Highland State Recreation Area, Michigan

Post by DougBidlack » Tue Apr 10, 2018 6:21 pm

I forgot to answer your last question. Tamarack generally occurs in pure stands in the tamarack swamps in Highland as well as in Kensington, Proud Lake and Island Lake. At least that is generally true of the larger trees. Poison sumac is often the most common shrub/small tree present in these swamps. There are a whole host of trees that hang out right at the edges of the swamps and some of these are almost exclusively found at the edges of these wetlands. Yellow birch is kinda the poster child for a species that almost exclusively grows at the edges of these swamps...and when I say edge I mean that they can, and often do, grow right in the swamp. In Highland there is a tamarack swamp that grades into a cattail marsh which is slowly being overtaken by phragmites. This marsh has some white pines growing in it...and I mean growing right in the wetland. There are a few small tamaracks in that area too. The northern white-cedars are close by as well but it is significantly drier in most of the area that they are growing in and only parts of it may actually be wetland. They are also in a mostly pure stand but there is some yellow birch, red maple, tuliptree and other species along the ragged edges. There is a really cool wetland just outside of Highland State Recreation Area on private land. This wetland occurs in a kind of bowl where small white spruce and balsam fir are growing very close together and well South of their native range in Michigan. I think this might be the only site in Oakland County where each of these trees grows naturally. There are some tamaracks growing at the edge of this wetland if I remember correctly.


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