Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The secrets of the Huron Mountain Club

The history of the Huron Mountain Club, in northern Marquette County, is a study in contrasts (and a difficult study at that, as its members are notoriously tight-lipped about their little piece of paradise). When it began around 1890, the club served as a high-priced, very exclusive hunting ground for industrialists from cities like Detroit and Chicago. Membership in the club, located on Lake Superior near the community of Big Bay, was limited to fifty primary members (people who could own cabins) and eighty associate members (people who couldn't live on-site). The club became a source of mystery and, eventually, consternation to locals, especially after a potential member thwarted plans to create a state highway that would have passed near the club's land (more on that later). To many, the Huron Mountain Club represented greed and self-interest over the needs of the community at large.

Old-timey postcard of the Huron Mountain Club

Fast forward several decades, and Michiganders are singing a different tune. The very exclusivity that made the Huron Mountain Club a focus of derision in the early 20th century has helped preserve approximately 24,000 acres of pristine lakes and forests. Because club members are fiercely protective of their land, they've worked to stop developers from altering the landscape. Consequently, they've created a wildlife preserve of sorts, albeit one accessible only to Huron Mountain Club members.

As mentioned previously, the Huron Mountain Club began as a playground for the monied class. In the 1880s, prominent Midwesterners like Cyrus McCormick (founder of the tractor company that became International Harvester) and Frederick Miller (of Miller Brewing Company fame) bought land in the Huron Mountains, establishing the area as a hot spot for wilderness recreation among the wealthy. The Huron Mountain Club was founded soon after, and attracted so much interest that when a certain automobile magnate named Henry Ford decided he wanted in, he found himself placed on a waiting list.

Ford was not one to sit around until an existing Huron Mountain Club member sold his land or died. To get in the club's good graces, he bought land nearby, then refused to let officials build state highway M-35 across the property, even though the trunkline's proposed route had been established before Ford bought his land. The Huron Mountain Club rewarded Ford's efforts by making him a member, and Ford promptly hired workers to build a $100,000 hideaway in his long-sought-after holdings.

Henry Ford, thinking about how great it is to be rich
Huron Mountain Club members thwarted other attempts to encourage public use of surrounding land, including an effort in the 1950s to create a national park in the Huron Mountains. Though some might see such efforts as exclusionist, it was actually the Huron Mountain Club's wise stewardship of its acreage that made the area such an attractive site for public recreation. In 1938, naturalist Aldo Leopold conducted a study of the Huron Mountain Club's holdings and created a management system that helped members preserve the old-growth hardwood forests in which they lived. Had the club not taken this and similar measures, its land might have fallen victim to overdevelopment, and the Huron Mountains would never have been considered an appropriate venue for a national park.

The Huron Mountains

Today, the Huron Mountain Club consists of 50 primary members and 100 associate members who are just as secretive as their predecessors. Many are descendants of the club's founders. Huron Mountain Club members avoid the media and generally keep to themselves. However, their conservation work continues, just as it did in the days of Leopold's nature study. The Huron Mountain Club has opened its holdings to the Huron Mountain Wildlife Foundation, which conducts biological and geological research. Conservation, not hunting, is now the focus, as today's Huron Mountain Club attempts to keep its land as pristine--and as private--as possible.


  1. canyon lake is my favorite, with its own unique species of fish seen nowhere else!

    1. Canyon lake looks intriquing ona topo map..could you publish pictures?

  2. I've been there! Did some research in grad school for ecology.