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River Road Byway offers scenic views, glimpse of history

Views of the AuSable River are breathtaking
any time of year, but more so in autumn.
Photos by Cheryl Peterson
By Mary Weber

Anyone looking for a unique mix of natural beauty and area history will find it along the River Road National Scenic Byway. Travelers will experience lush forests and breathtaking views from high banks along the AuSable River.

This 22 mile long route takes visitors from the Lake Huron community of Oscoda west to the Huron-Manistee National Forest and nearby community of Glennie. The byway runs parallel to the AuSable River (River of Sand) which was a well-traveled route from Native Americans and French fur traders.

Later, the river became integral in transporting Michigan's white pine from forests inland to saw mills in towns located on the Lake Huron shoreline.

One hundred years after the AuSable proved invaluable to the lumber industry, it is still a major waterway with six hydroelectric dams and a popular avenue for water recreation.

Visitors will find various opportunities for recreation along River Road. There are motorized trails for off-road vehicles and snowmobiles. There are trail systems for hiking and cross-country skiing. Several boat landing sites provide easy access for canoeing, kayaking, tubing, fishing and boating. Camping enthusiasts can choose from modern facilities or more primitive camping.

Lumberman's Monument Visitor Center interprets the area's lumbering history. It is located mid-point along the byway. Visitors are greeted with a larger than life bronze statue of a sawyer with an axe and cross cut saw, a river driver holding a peavey and timber cruiser or "looker" with his direction box compass. Wind whispers through the branches of towering white pines above the silent statue which overlooks 7.2 acres dedicated to the rugged, spirited strength of Michigan's rich logging era.
Lumberman's Monument awakens the timber heroes of yesteryear's forest, enticing visitors to experience the life of a lumberjack in the late 1800s. Through interpretive displays and exhibits visitors will discover the tales of legendary hardworking timber men who fought harsh frigid temperatures, long, back-breaking days, loneliness and almost unbearable living conditions while lumbering pine to help build the nation.

The monument's visitor center welcomes guests to hands-on experiences using the tools of lumberman's trade. Visitors have the opportunity to feel the give and take of a cross cut saw as they make their own wood cookie souvenir. They may even try rolling a log with a peavey just as the river drivers would do or they can climb atop a log jam.

The grounds have several pathways for exploration and scenic views abound across sand dune bluffs and forests of cedar and hemlock 150 feet above the sparkling AuSable River. Visitors may descend the 260 step nature lover's stairway through the forest to the AuSable River's edge. A wanagan, a type of floating kitchen, sits on the river to share how men known as river rats risked their lives walking atop logs on water while herding them to mills.

The statue at Lumberman’s Monument Visitor’s Center on River Road, west of Oscoda.
Photos by Cheryl Peterson

Entertaining programs run throughout the summer which includes story tellers, musicians and demonstrations geared to enlighten and educate all age groups. Children's programs run every Tuesday at 1 p.m. from June 26 through August 21.

The Lumberman's Monument is located in the Huron-Manistee National Forest at the junction of River and Monument Roads west of Oscoda. The visitor's center is open free of charge daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from May through October with additional extended hours during the summer. For more information about Lumberman's Monument, call (989) 362-8961 or (989) 739-0728. Just a few of the special events happening at the monument this summer include:

  • June 30 at 7 p.m. Bill Jamerson - "Civilian Conservation Program." Jamerson, a storyteller, will use antique tools, old time video, role playing and traditional songs to entertain and educate the audience. He will explain the motivation that brought lumbermen to America, the different jobs in the woods, the many steps from taking down the trees to getting them to the saw mills and the progression from logging to farming. Jamerson's unique style will acknowledge how we possess many of the same qualities as our forefathers, such as self-reliance, self respect, hard work and honesty.
  • July 6 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and July 7 from 2 to 3 p.m. the Blue Water Ramblers will perform songs and ballads about the history of the Great Lakes region, lumberman ballads, lake shanties, union rallying cries and more. Their repertoire also includes a lot of Michigan humor, love songs, gospel music, and children's songs.
  • July 10 at 1 p.m. and July 20 at 7 p.m. Michael Deren - "Shanty Boy." Deren will perform playing the concertina, fiddle, bones, limbertoys, button accordion and hammered dulcimer as he shares songs and stories of life in the 1870s as a shanty boy in lumber camps.
  • July 21 at 1 p.m. Michael Deren - "Schooner Captain." Deren will perform with the button accordion and concertina sharing the rich history and resources of the region in songs of sailing in 1875 delivering passengers and cargo on the Great Lakes.

Hands-on exhibits like the log jam offer visitors to Lumberman’s Monument a look into the past.
Photos by Cheryl Peterson


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