It has been 25 years since the Michigan Wilderness Act took effect. Multiple areas of forest throughout Michigan were declared wilderness areas like the Sylvania Wilderness Tract within the Ottawa National Forest in Watersmeet. Sylvania attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year who love its solitude.
For 25 years the 18,400 acre Sylvania Wilderness Tract has provided stunning natural forestland for outdoor recreation. Prior to the Michigan Wilderness Act in 1987, this was a normal forest for outdoor activites, but for the last two and a half decades the U.S. Forest Service, part of the Department of Agriculture, has kept a close eye. Humans entering must follow a "leave no trace" policy.
"Natural forces dominate the development of the area, where the impacts of humans are relatively unnoticeable," said Norman Nass, District Ranger for the Watersmeet and Iron River Ranger Districts of the Ottawa National Forest.
Guests must watch a short informational video before entering and register what they plan to do and for how long. Admission prices vary depending on the length of the stay. Among a laundry list of rules, visitors can't bring in metal or glass containers, and must leave behind anything with motors or wheels, even bicycles. See more about the rules here.
Wilderness rangers will make inspections to make sure visitors comply.
"If you're out fishing on the lake, I'll stop and check your license, make sure you're following the regulations as far as live bait or barbed hooks, things like that," said Dan Ryskey, Wilderness Ranger for the Ottawa National Forest.
So you're better off ditching the motorboat and grabbing a canoe. Sylvania sees 20-30,000 visitors each year, some of which travel hundreds of miles to be here. With such a vast expanse available, there's almost no limit to outdoor activities.
"The hiking is great, sitting back in your campsite - there are beach sites here on Clarke Lake that are just great in the summertime. You can come up here without a fishing pole and have a great time," said visitor and fisherman Steve Richter.
It's a tourist hotspot and the local businesses thrive on it. The neighboring Sylvania Wilderness Cabins that are along Crooked Lake, bordering the Tract, offer some of the creature comforts, but they cater to Sylvania's unique outdoor lovers.
"We try to keep it as close to a wilderness experience as possible. We don't have TV, we don't have WiFi, we don't have air conditioning running all day, we don't have dusk to dawn lights," said Jill Schmidt, co-owner of the Sylvania Wilderness Cabins. The Cabins have housed visitors for around 70 years, and they see several hundred visitors in a normal year. Most of their guests are elderly or families with small children who find it easier to have a location to go back to after hiking and fishing.
For information on Sylvania's 25th anniversary celebration on July 15th, click here.