Oakland County Highpoint Trip Report

Date: July 24, 2006
Author: Andy Hatzos

Andy Martin's book lists four highpoints for Oakland County in three areas:

In my examinations of the Topo maps and USGS "point" listings, I found these to be accurate. They matched up with the four areas with the highest contour reading for Oakland County; above 1230 feet. As such, with some great advice from Bob Schwab, I went ahead and completed the points in Fall of 2005.

Fast forward the better part of a year and through a busy year of school, etc, and not much attempt at highpointing. While browsing the internet I found this article from 2004 in a local newspaper - the Oakland Press.

To summarize, a 2004 topographic map produced by Oakland County itself labels the following as the five highest points:

Pine Knob - 1,286 feet
Mount Holly - 1,244 feet
Private property in the northwest quadrant of Addison Township - 1,234 feet
Saint Benedict's monastery in Addison Township - 1,232 feet
Private property in Independence Township - 1,232 feet

While the "three regions" highlighted in the COHP guidebook are in 3rd through 5th place on that list, two new entrants took first and second. This obviously constitutes a major shift from the USGS maps and Andy's book. Furthermore, the Oakland County Map readings for the "three regions" matched up nearly exactly to the USGS readings from the topo maps (as mentioned above, they were just inside the 1,230 contour). However, using the USGS data from GNIS, Pine Knob's value was raised from 1,204 feet to 1,286 feet, a difference of 82 feet. Even more astounding was Mount Holly being raised from 1,115 feet to 1,244 feet, a change of 129 feet!

To add fuel to the fire, Pine Knob and Mount Holly are Metro Detroit's biggest ski attractions and are thus an important commercial interest for Oakland County. Let the conspiracy theories begin.

Looking for a few answers, I stopped by the Oakland County mapping office about a week ago to ask about this. They said that the map was generated by flying airplanes over the county with radar mapping technologies -- and while I can't remember exactly what form of the technology they used, I do know it was something legit as I have seen other presentations on it. They said that the discrepancy between the USGS readings and their readings were caused by the fact that their readings were of much greater resolution (2 feet instead of 10) and advances in technology. When I asked about why only two points were raised so greatly, they sort of reverted back to the last question's response and didn't really give a good explanation, as I don't think they had a good explanation to give.

Even with the factors that have led me to skepticism, the bottom line is that Oakland County swears by their map, which names a new (and singular) highpoint for Oakland County, unfortunately, one that appears to be laced with at least moderate access issues. Pine Knob is one-part ski area, one-part golf course, with a fairly exclusive banquet center (the Pine Knob Mansion) right near the top, and Metro Detroit's biggest concert amphitheater at the base of what is really a very prominent peak for the area.

Not to get too confusing but I think the "real" highest point in Oakland County is a man-made landfill just north of I-75 Exit 81 and the Palace of Auburn Hills on M-24. Of course, we don't care about those.