Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pumpkinvine Trail

The Pumpkinvine Nature Trail is a developing bike trail about an hour south of Kalamazoo in northern Indiana's Amish area. Several sections of the trail are currently open around Goshen and Middlebury.

We started our ride in Goshen. The parking lot was easy to find on 5th street north of Lincoln Ave, but the trail wasn't immediately visible. It's tucked between a grain elevator and the industrial-looking city waterworks, right next to the train tracks, which, in hindsight, was perfectly logical since the trail was a railroad right-of-way. The trail quickly passed through the semi-industrial section, crossing Rock Run Creek on multiple bridges before reaching Abshire Park (which is an alternative starting point.) The trail surface was mostly asphalt but one section of a mile or so was crushed stone-- fine for bikes but not rollerblades.

The trail was surprisingly pretty, with more curves than a typical rail-trail. At times, it passed close to farm fields and in other places it ran through woods. This section of the trail ended at County Rd 33, about six miles from Goshen.

Another six mile section, running from Middlebury toward Shipshewana, was recently completed. Its official ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held September 20, 2011. When completed in a few years, the trail will run 17 miles connecting Shipshewana, Middlebury and Goshen.

Thanks to Joann and John Smith for writing about the Pumpkinvine trail on their "Now Showing Near You: Wildflowers" blog.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Brown-Eyed Susan

Brown-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba) are blooming in Kalamazoo, well after their better-known cousins, the Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta). Brown-Eyed Susan are widely distributed throughout the Central and Eastern states, but are only found in scattered counties in Michigan.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Great Blue Lobelia

Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) are now in flower in Kalamazoo. Like their showier relatives the Cardinal Flower, these perennial wildflowers need moist soil and tolerate partial shade. The flower spike grows about three feet high and they are often found along streams and rivers. They're a widely distributed plant, found throughout Michigan and most Eastern, Midwestern, and Great Plains states.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pere Marquette Rail Trail

The Pere Marquette Rail Trail starts in Midland, MI, which is a 3 hour drive from Kalamazoo. The section I rode was paved and had mown grass shoulders. It passed through several parks in Midland, then paralleled the Tittabawassee River for several miles northwest of town. A goldfinch flew among the wildflower plantings along the trail. In other areas bracken ferns and woods edged the trail. The Averill Preserve (pdf) offered a river overlook with information about the area's logging history. I had to turn back to Midland shortly past the Averill overlook but the trail continues to Clare (30 miles from Midland).

Overall, the Pere Marquette trail was much more polished than the KalHaven trail with smooth asphalt suitable for rollerblades. Like other rail trails, it was fairly flat and ran pretty much in a straight line. Concrete mileposts marked the distance every half mile. The trailhead at Midland offered drinking fountains, restrooms, and compressed air. The Pere Marquette trail was selected for the Rail Trail Hall of Fame.

A four mile extension, called the Chippewa Trail, links the Pere Marquette trail to the Chippewa Nature Center. The trails are connected by a Y-shaped bridge, known as the Tridge, in Midland. Both trails start at the Tridge, just outside Midland's downtown.

Dow Gardens are also worth seeing if you're in Midland.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Natural Michigan part 4 (Grand Rapids)

Natural Michigan: A Nature Lover's Guide to 228 Attractions
by Tom Powers

This guidebook has over 200 pages describing natural areas throughout the state, with directions & small maps. In earlier posts, I highlighted areas near Kalamazoo and areas near the Indiana border and areas near Lansing. These areas, near Grand Rapids, are around an hour's drive from Kalamazoo.

Natural Areas near Grand Rapids

1. Aman Park

"Beautiful Sand Creek winds through the heart of the park and dominates the landscape." Trails, wildflowers, cross-country skiing.

Directions: From I-96 exit onto M-45. M-45 (Lake Michigan Avenue) about 6 miles west of Grand Rapids.
Aman Park Trail map

2. Blandford Nature Center
1715 Hillburn Ave N.W.
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
"143 acres of woodland, open fields, marsh and farmland plus ... several ponds and Brandywine Creek." Trails, visitor center.

Directions: From US 131 exit onto Leonard Street. West 3 miles on Leonard to Hillburn Avenue. North on Hillburn 1/2 mile to entrance.
Blandford Nature Center

3. DeGraaf Nature Center
600 Graafschap Road
Holland, MI 49423
"The DeGraaf Nature Center is a perfect example of the old adage, 'good things come in small packages.' Though only 15.5 acres big, the area is packed with a wwide variety of habitats and plant and animal life." Trails, wildflowers.

Directions: From Holland go south on River Avenue to Michigan Avenue. Continue southeast on Michigan to 22nd street. West on 22nd to Graafschap. South on Graafschap 1/2 mile to entrance.
DeGraaf Nature Center

4. Kitchell Dunes Preserve

"Tucked away on the north shore of the Grand River a few hundred yards from where it empties into Lake Michigan at Grand Haven, the Kitchell Dune Preserve is a living showcase for a typical Michigan dunal ecosystem, where nature patiently and efficiently changes a sandy, barren dune into a hardwood forest." Trails.

Directions: From US 31 exit west onto Van Wagoner Rd outside of Ferrysburg to 174th Street. South on 174th to North Shore Dr. West on North Shore to North Beach Rd. South on N. Beach to Berwyk. East on Berwyck to entrance.
Kitchel-Lindquist Dunes Preserve

This book seems to be out of print. Amazon and Barnes & Noble may have copies through their affiliates. I found it at my local library.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) are native to Michigan but they were extirpated more than a century ago by over-hunting and habitat destruction. Most of the swans I see around Kalamazoo today are the aggressive Mute Swan introduced from Europe.

In the 1980s, Michigan began a program to reintroduce Trumpeter Swans to the state. By 2000, Michigan had over 400 swans, including 100 in Southwest Michigan. Since then, their numbers have increased. Wild swans are protected from hunting in Michigan.

Binder Park Zoo, where I took this photo, is a participant in the restoration program.

The Trumpeter Swan Society has more information on these magnificent birds.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Beach Freaks' Guide to Michigan's Best Beaches

Beach Freaks' Guide to Michigan's Best Beaches
Joan & Bob Elmouchi

This guidebook reviews 20 beaches near Detroit, 57 on Michigan's west Coast, 16 on its East Coast, and 4 in the Upper Peninsula. Each beach's features are described and most are illustrated with black & white photos. Directions (complete with keys for the DeLorme and Universal Michigan County Atlases) are given for each location.

Best Beaches near Kalamazoo
1. New Buffalo Beach,
New Buffalo

2. Warren Dunes State Park

3. Weko Beach Park

4. Silver Beach County Park,
St Joseph

5. Van Buren State Park,
South Haven

6. South Beach,
South Haven

7. North Beach,
South Haven

8. West Side Park,
Allegan County

9. Douglas Beach,

10. Oval Beach

11. Laketown Township Beach

12. Holland State Park

13. Tunnel Park

14. Kirk Park
West Olive

15. Grand Haven State Park,
Grand Haven

16. Grand Haven City Beach,
Grand Haven

17. North Beach Park,

18. PJ Hoffmaster State Park

19. Bronson Park [Kruse Park],

20. Pere Marquette Park,

21. Muskegon State Park

22. Pioneer Park,

23. Duck Lake State Park

24. Meinert Park,

25. Silver Lake State Park

26. Charles Mears State Park

Available from Amazon, other booksellers, and libraries.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Outdoor Adventures with Children

Michigan's Best Outdoor Adventures with Children
Jim DuFresne

Noted outdoor writer, Jim DuFresne, suggests 75 adventures for families throughout the state of Michigan. I've highlighted a few destinations reasonably close to Kalamazoo

Outdoor Adventures with Children in West Michigan
1. Mount Baldhead
Mount Baldhead and Oval Beach Recreation Area
"Saugatuck, that trendy resort town on Lake Michigan, is hardly wilderness, but it does offer a fun adventure that includes riding a hand-pulled chain ferry, climbing Mount Baldhead, and sweeping views from the top of the forested sand dune. It ends with a pleasant descent of the dune's west side to Oval Beach, Saugatuck's renowned stretch of sand and Lake Michigan surf."

2. Graves Hill
Yankee Springs Recreation Area
"An old moraine makes a fine place for a child's first 'mountain climb' in southwest Michigan's Barry County. Graves Hill, the result of glacial activity, is located in the heart of Yankee Springs Recreation Area, one of the most popular units of the state park system. The loop trail is not strenuous but just steep enough to make children believe they're climbing a peak. The top rewards you with good views of the area, and the walk can be extended an extra mile to include Devils Soup Bowl, a deep depression."

3. Michigan Fisheries Interpretive Center
Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery
"The center attempts to capture all aspects of the Michigan fishery, from commercial fishermen and the present stocking program to the anatomy of fish. But to the delight of children, the displays are devoted mostly to sport fishing."

4. Backwoods Bikeways
Three Oaks Spokes Bicycle Museum
"But the museum is much more than old bicycles and wall displays. What it's really showcasing is Berrien County, a pedlar's paradise locals call 'Michiana.' This southwest corner of Michigan, with its secondary roads, patchwork farmland, lakes, streams,and rolling hills, is a great place for a family bicycle tour."

5. Warren Woods
Warren Woods Natural Area
"Most of Michigan's remaining stands of virgin timber are located either in the northern portion of the Lower Peninsula or in the Upper Peninsula. Except one. Surprisingly, in the southwest corner of the state, less than 10 miles from the Indiana border, are trees so big that most adults can't stretch their arms around the trunks and most children can't see the lofty tops. This unique spot is Warren Woods Natural Area, a 200-acre reserve featuring a rare, primeval beech and maple stand."

6. Love Creek
Love Creek County Park
"You can go nordic skiing at hundreds of places across Michigan, but for a change of place slip on a pair of snowshoes and trudge your way up the hills and through the beech and maple climax forest at Love Creek County Park."

7. The Ledges
Fitzgerald County Park
"Grand Ledge, the only place to do any serious climbing in Michigan, also makes for a fun adventure for children, even if they're years away from lacing up a pair of rock shoes. The town west of Lansing is named after 'The Ledges,' towering faces of sheer rock that border the Grand River."

8. Dune Overlook
P.J. Hoffmaster State Park
"You can view the most famous dunes in the Midwest all along the state's Lake Michigan shoreline, but the best place to teach children the significance of these mountains of sand is at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park on the outskirts of Muskegon."

9. Luge Run
Muskegon Winter Sports Complex
"Beginners depart from the lowest entry ramp on the 600-meter luge track, but they still zip along the iced runway at speeds of up to 12 to 15 miles an hours-- while lying on their backs. For kids, it's the most exciting 12 seconds they've ever had on a sled... in any position."

10. Silver Lake Sand Dunes
Silver Lake State Park
"For the boy or girl whose sandbox never has enough sand, there's Silver Lake sand dunes, the mile-wide strip that separate the inland lake from Lake Michigan. This is heaven on earth for people who like to wiggle their toes in the sand, climb steep slopes of sand, or run down dunes into a cool, refreshing lake."

Amazon has used copies; mine was from the library.