Thursday, December 30, 2010

Feather track

Mice aren't the only animals to leave interesting tracks in the snow. Birds of prey often leave imprints of their wingtips when they strike. I think these tracks may have been from an owl. (Only the right side is shown in the picture, the left wing marks were mixed with a lot of small mammal tracks.)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Natural Michigan part 2 (Southwest)

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

This guidebook describes over 200 natural areas throughout the state, with directions & small maps and some black & white photos. In my first post on this guidebook, I selected areas closest to Kalamazoo. Here are a few more suggestions, a bit further south, but still reasonably close to Kalamazoo.

Southwest Michigan Natural Areas
1. Sarret Nature Center
"There, in a gallery of manmade structures-- towers, elevated platforms, benches, boardwalks, and an extensive system of woodchip covered paths-- you can view 350 acres of swamp and floodplain forest from a wide range of perspectives." Nature trails, birdwatching, visitor center.

directions:from I-94, east of Benton Harbor, take I-196 north 1 mile to Red Arrow Highway (first exit). West on Red Arrow to Benton Center Road (first intersection). North on Benton Center 3/4 mile to entrance. 2300 Benton Center Rd, Benton Harbor.
Sarret Nature Center

2. Love Creek Nature Center
"Your camera will also come in handy during walks down any of the 200-acre center's 13 nature trails." Visitor center, wildflowers, hiking, birdwatching, cross county skiing.

directions: From Berrien Springs take M-139 (Old US-31)southeast to Pokagon Road. East on Pokagon, 2 miles to Huckleberry Road. 1 mile north on Huckleberry to entrance. 9228 Huckleberry Rd, Berrien Center
Love Creek Nature Center

3. Dayton Creek Wet Prairie Preserve
"This quietly spectacular preserve holds one of the last vestiges of a 15,000-acre prairie that at one time spread over much of the Michigan/Indiana border." 47 acres, Nature Conservancy, wildflowers, wet!

directions: From US-31 exit onto US-12, then 2 miles west to Red Bud Trail. South on Red Bud 2 miles to Curran Road. West on Curran, 2 miles to preserve.

4. Bertrand Park

"This heavily wooded 121-acre Berrien County park is as pleasing to the senses today as it must have been to the Indians who passed through it on the Saul and Chicago trails and to the French voyageurs who paddled their fur-laden canoes down the historic St. Joseph River, which marks the park's west boundary." Hiking, birding, picnic shelters, playgrounds, disc golf, cross country ski trails.

directions: From Niles take M-51 south 2 miles to Ontario Drive. East on Ontario 1/2 mile to Adams Road. 1/2 mile south on Adams to park entrance. Admission
Madeline Bertrand County Park

5. Trillium Ravine Plant Preserve
"Press on through all this natural beauty until you get to a V-shaped ravine with almost geometrically perfect sides. By late spring its steep slopes are blanketed in a rich, dense green that from a distance looks like the felt covering on a pool table." Wildflowers, mature hardwoods, toadshade and prairie trillium (bloom as early as April 9th), Michigan Nature Association, 15 acres.

directions: From Niles, north on Business US-31 to Walton Road (US 31). Southwest on Walton to Geyer Road. 0.6 miles east on Geyer to preserve.
Trillium Ravine

6. Fernwood, Inc.

"Fernwood, a 105-acre privately owned preserve and botanical garden on the east bank of the St. Joseph River where you can enjoy the peace and beauty of nature from a garden gazebo, a riverbank, the midst of a garden, or a hillside full of azaleas." Nature trails, arboretum, garden beds, greenhouse.

directions: From Niles, take US 12 west 4 miles to Red Bud Trail. North on Red Bud to Walton Road to Range Line Road.
13988 Range Line Road.
Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve

7. Dowagiac Woods
"Spring is without a doubt the best time to visit, Fifty different blooming species of wildflowers literally carpet the forest floor then in a spectacular display." Trails, wildflowers, birdwatching, Michigan Nature Association.

directions: From Dowagiac, 4 miles west on M-62 then south 1 mile on Sink Road to Frost Road. 1 miles east on Frost to parking area.
Dowagiac Woods

8. Russ Forest Park
"At this Cass County park, you have the rare opportunity to picnic, hike and study nature in a national Natural Landmark that also serves as a living research laboratory." Nature trails, Newton Woods, old growth hardwoods, trout stream, picnic area & playground.

directions: Eight miles west of Marcellus on Marcellus Highway.
Fred Russ Forest Park

9. Dr T.K. Lawless County Park

"A covey of knobby hills and deep hollows ripple the parks landscape." Trails, birdwatching, picnic area with sports fields, cross-country skiing.

directions:From Vandalia, east on M-60, two miles to Lewis Lake Road. South on Lewis to Monkey Run St. East on Monkey Run .5 mile to park entrance.
admission fee
Dr. T.K. Lawless Park

10. White Pigeon River Nature Sanctuary

"Fifty-eight acres of steep hillsides, old river channels, flooded bottomlands, lagoons and riverbanks, plus a riot of plant and animal life are good reasons to visit and explore this premier example of the work of the Michigan Nature Association." Birding, wildflowers, nature trail.

directions: From White Pigeon, West on US 12 then South on Burke Road. Park at intersection of Burke & Silver Creek Road.
White Pigeon River Nature Sanctuary

11. Pahl Point Park
"On the face of it, this small St. Joseph County park hardly seems worth going out of your way to visit." Diverse habitat, birding, covered bridge, wildflowers.
directions: from Mendon, 3 miles West on M-60, then South 3.3 miles on Silver St.
St. Joseph County Parks

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

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mourning Dove

The cooing of Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) is frequently heard in Kalamazoo. These native relatives of the common pigeon are abundant in Michigan and are found throughout North America. Some Mourning Doves migrate while others overwinter in Michigan.

They eat seeds and banding studies show they can live up to 10 years in the wild. Apparently they produce a rich "pigeon milk" in their crop to feed their young. Dove hunting is prohibited in Michigan.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Eagle eye

Eagles aren't that common in Kalamazoo and when I visited the Kalamazoo Nature Center on Friday I certainly wasn't looking for one. Yet, the moment I stepped on the observation platform overlooking the Kalamazoo River valley, my eye was drawn to the white feathers on the head & tail of a Bald Eagle and I immediately knew what I was looking at. From the observation deck, you can literally see for miles so the eagle was just a small shape, barely more than a dot, about a quarter mile away. Yet its black & white feathers stood in sharp contrast to the grays and browns of the landscape. Of course, the eagle's vision was much better than mine, but it seemed too focused on a dispersed flock of hundreds of crows to pay attention to me.

Later, when I looked for the trail name on the Nature Center's map, I saw the observation deck was on "Raptor Ridge".

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Snow tunnel

While field mice and voles are difficult to see in the wild during the summer, in the winter it can be easy to find their snow tunnels. Unlike the chipmunk or the woodchuck, these small mammals stay active all winter, building systems of tunnels under the snow. When the snow is shallow, like it was this week, the tracks are visible.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Love Creek ski trails

Kalamazoo's first snow was December 1st. Every day since then, I'd been tempted to get out my skis, even though I knew the snow wasn't deep enough for cross-country yet. Then I remembered that Outside Magazine's guidebook, Urban Adventure Chicago, recommended Love Creek County Park for its early lake effect snow. Love Creek is outside Berrien Springs, just over an hour southwest of Kalamazoo. On Friday, I decided to try it.

As the book promised, Love Creek had substantially deeper snow than Kalamazoo. The trails pass through a mix of woods and open prairie with some rolling hills. In many sections, they are groomed with both traditional double tracks and a wide flat section for skate skiing. I started with the 2.5 mile yellow loop with the intention of trying one of the three other loops afterward.

It had been overcast when I left Kalamazoo but, by the time I started skiing, the sun broke through the clouds making a glorious clear day. The trail was great until that bright sun softened the snow enough to make it sticky. Towards the end of the loop, I was stopping to scrape snow off the bottom of my skis every few minutes. Rather than slog through a second lap, I declared it a successful inaugural run and changed into boots and walked their winter hiking trail.

Ski rentals are available in the park visitor center. Current trail conditions are updated daily on the Berrien County Parks homepage. More information is available in the Berrien County Parks Cross Country Skiing brochure (pdf).

Love Creek County Park
9292 Huckleberry Road
Berrien Center, MI
(269) 471-2617

Directions: Take I-94 to exit 30. Follow Napier Avenue east to US 31 South. Take US 31 south to exit 15 onto M-139 (Old 31) southeast to Berrien Springs. Cross the river & turn left to Deans Hill Road, then immediately right onto Pokagon Rd. Follow signs to the park.

Entry fee. Trail fee. Season passes available.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Natural Michigan

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 and the occasional black & white photo. It excludes Michigan's State & National Parks since the author covers them in a separate guide. The natural areas in this book range from pocket parks to large game areas.

Natural Areas near Kalamazoo

1. Kalamazoo Nature Center

"Most of the outstanding natural features-- including the Kalamazoo River and more than 200 acres of mature beech/maple forest-- that drew James Fenimore Cooper as a regular visitor to the area more than 100 years ago are even more impressive today." nature trails, DeLano Homestead, interpretive center, arboretum.

directions: From US-131 exit Avenue D (north of Kalamazoo). East on D about 3 miles to Westnedge Avenue. South on Westnedge, 1 mile to entrance.
Kalamazoo Nature Center

2. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary
"This large number of different birds, their closeness to the visitor and the hand feeding of the Canadian Geese make the Kellogg Sanctuary an ideal place for a first exposure to nature study and birding, especially for children."

directions: Take M-89 to 40th Street (between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek). North on 40th 1 mile to C Avenue. West on C to entrance.
Kellogg Bird Sanctuary

3. Allegan State Game Area

"Scenic beauty, easy hiking, two campgrounds, and some of the state's best birdwatching are good reasons to pay a visit to the Allegan State Game Area."

directions: From Allegan, take M-89 to 115th Avenue. West 6 miles on 115th to 44th St. North on 44th to parking lots.
Allegan State Game Area

4. Bernard W Baker Sanctuary
"This 871 acres of swamp and wetlands near Battle Creek probably is the nation's first Sandhill Crane sanctuary and definitely is the first and largest of the Michigan Audubon Society's 10 sanctuaries."

directions: From I-94 take I-69 north to exit 42 (first exit). West on N Drive North to 16 Mile Road. North on 16 Mile about 3.3 miles to sanctuary.
Baker Sanctuary

5. Jenney Woods Preserve

"The wild, untamed 142-acre tract of swamp, old-growth hardwoods and swamp forest has no trails, no interpretive signs, no restrooms, and no parking lot."

directions: From I-94, take I-69 south about 6 miles to F Drive South. West on F to 15 1/2 mile Rd. North of 15 1/2 to C Drive. Left on C, 3miles to the preserve.
Nature Conservancy

6. Whitehouse Nature Center

"Located on the campus of Albion College, the 125-acre center's other varied habitats-- including open fields, farmland, marshy areas, and the edges of the east branch of the Kalamazoo River, and 25 acres of woodland-- support nearly 400 kinds of plants and more than 175 species of birds."

directions: Take I-94 to exit 121 and follow Business-94 to Albion College. On campus, go south on Hannah across the railroad tracks and turn left to nature center parking lot.
Whitehouse Nature Center

Other areas near Kalamazoo covered in this book: Southwest Michigan Natural Areas

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

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Skiing in Southern Michigan

Adventure Guide to Michigan
by Kevin & Laurie Hillstrom

This guidebook has regional features and destinations for specific sports. They recommend these ski areas in south Michigan.

Cross-Country Skiing

1. Bald Mountain Trails
Seven miles north of Pontiac
"Bald Mountain Nordic Skiing is challenging and scenic with lots of rolling hills punctuated by the odd lake or stream."
Bald Mountain Recreation Area

2. Highland Recreation Area Pathway
Oakland County
"This no-frills (ungroomed, no shelter) system runs through the park's attractive Haven Hill natural Area which is off-limits to snowmobiliers."
Highland Recreation Area

3. Ionia Recreation Trails
"Six-mile loop that will challenge advanced skiers with its very hilly route."
Ionia Recreation Area

4. Maybury State Park Trails
Wayne County
"Nice getaway for more experienced skiers"
Maybury State Park

5. Muskegon State Park Trails
"Ideal for intermediate skiers, with varied terrain that ranges from mild rolls to more heart-pumping fare."
Muskegon State Park Winter Sports Complex

6. Proud Lake Trails
Commerce Township
"One of the most popular cross-country skiing networks in southeastern Michigan."
Proud Lake Recreation Area

7. Saugatuck Dunes State Park Trails
"Tough but handsome"
Saugatuck Dunes State Park

8. Sleepy Hollow State Park Trails
"The trails pass through a number of open areas, making for sometimes windy conditions, but the system does offer nice views of Lake Ovid."
Sleepy Hollow State Park

9. Yankee Springs Trails
Barry County
"Blessed with scenic countryside and an interesting blend of terrain, the Yankee Springs Recreation Area maintains half a dozen loops for skiers of varying abilities."
Yankee Springs Recreation Area

Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding
1. Alpine Valley
Detroit area
Alpine Valley

2. Bittersweet
North of Kalamazoo

3. Cannonsburg
outside Grand Rapids
Cannonsburg Ski Area

4. Mt Brighton
near Ann Arbor & E. Lansing
Mt Brighton Ski Resort

5. Mt Holly
1 hour north of Detroit
Mt Holly

6. Pine Knob
Pine Knob Ski Resort

7. Swiss Valley
north of Indiana border
Swiss Valley Ski Area

8. Timber Ridge
West of Kalamazoo
Timber Ridge Ski Area

In earlier posts I've listed some of their recommendations for Mountain Biking and Canoeing.

Or get the book from Barnes & Noble, or Amazon or Google books.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Holiday visitor

A few days before Thanksgiving this Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) appeared in our front yard. These birds aren't common in Michigan, but worldwide they have been very successful. Originally from Africa and Asia, they appeared in the Americas in the late 1800s and have spread throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and North & South America. While, this one really looked out of place in Kalamazoo, the species does appear on Audubon's Checklist of Michigan Birds.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Winter events 2010-11

Days are shorter and nights are colder but there are still plenty of things to do around Kalamazoo in Winter.

Winter Events in West Michigan
November 29, 2010 Marshall's 46th Annual Christmas Parade 7:00 PM Marshall

December 3, 2010 Sinterklaas Eve Procession 7:00 PM Holland

December 4, 2010 Jingle Bell Parade 6:00 PM Grand Haven

Dec 4, 2010 Snowshoe Making Class 10 am to 5 pm Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery Visitor Center Kalamazoo

January 7-8, 2011 Downtown Holland Ice Sculpting Competition Holland

January 8-9, 2011 M.U.S.H. Dog sled races, Fort Custer State Park

January 15 Schrier Park Winter Sports Fest Portage 12 noon -3:30 Portage [Update: The printed Winter Recreation brochure confirms the date: pdf.]

Jan 22, 2011 Fly Tying 101 1 pm to 2:30 pm Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery Visitor Center Kalamazoo

January 25-29, 2011 Muskegon Snowfest Muskegon

January 29th, 2011 Winterfest Grand Haven

February 4-6 2011 Ice Breaker South Haven

February 12, 2011 Winter Festival (pdf) Alamo Township Park Alamo

Feb. 18-21 14th annual Great Backyard Bird Count

Feb 19-20, 2011 Free fishing weekend throughout Michigan

Feb 26, 2011 Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Fest Grand Rapids

February 27 Polar Bear Paddle Paw Paw River

Longer-running events

late November-December International Festival of Lights Battle Creek

Late November through mid-December weekends Holiday Kerstmarkt Holland

November-December (various dates) Christmas Bird Count throughout Michigan

See also:
Pure Michigan Connect's November-December Events and their Events in January and February

CommunityLink Winter in Kalamazoo

Event listings from Discover Kalamazoo

Calendar of West Michigan Races & Running Workshops from Gazelle Sports

Outdoor Athlete maintains a list of winter running, ski, and snowshoe events in Michigan.

Midwest Weekends has a calendar of Winter Festivals throughout the upper Midwest

Winter is also the season for cross-country skiing in Kalamazoo or skating at the Portage ice rink

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

In my family, we've been trying to establish a holiday tradition of giving. Michigan's quality-of-life depends on a large number of non-profit groups. These local nature organizations could use your support:
Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy

Kalamazoo Nature Center

Kalamazoo River Valley Trail

Michigan Nature Association

Nature Conservancy (Michigan)

Michigan Audubon Society

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo), the iconic bird of the Pilgrims, were nearly extirpated by American settlers. A 100 years ago, market hunting and habitat destruction had completely eliminated turkeys in many eastern and midwestern states, including Michigan, and severely reduced their populations throughout the country. Today, turkey populations have rebounded, perhaps reaching their highest levels in 300 years.

What happened? ---Taxes and government regulation saved the turkey.

By the end of the 19th century, states were beginning to pass laws to restrict market hunting. The Lacey Act, a federal law passed in 1900, outlawed the interstate sale of illegal wildlife products. Together these regulations slowed the decline of the turkey but it wasn't until a new tax was introduced during the Great Depression that the birds started to recover.

In 1937, The Pittman Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act imposed a sales tax on hunting equipment. The tax was supported by sport hunters since its revenue was used for habitat acquisition and improvement, reintroduction of species, and research & education. This successful program, administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, funded the return of the turkey (and many other species).

Today, wild turkeys are pretty common. In Kalamazoo, I frequently see them on my commute to the college. In Michigan, turkey population estimates are 40 times higher than they were in the 1960s. In some places, turkey-human interaction has led to conflicts.

If you're interested in reading more about wild turkeys, the National Wild Turkey Federation has interesting article, "History of the Wild Turkey in North America"(pdf). If you're interested in hunting turkeys in Michigan, try the Michigan Wild Turkey Hunters Association.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Salmon's end

Each year, Michigan's Department of Natural Resources stocks millions of hatchery-raised young salmon in tributaries of the Great Lakes. As a result, Lake Michigan salmon fishing and fly-fishing for salmon have become popular local sports. Salmon spend four years in the Lake before returning to the rivers to breed and die. The DNR collects eggs from these returning fish to raise in its hatcheries.

Last weekend, we saw a big Chinook in the Pere Marquette river. The run was several weeks ago, so this one was in pretty bad shape. It was still an impressive fish.

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission has an extensive history and analysis of Lake Michigan's fish population (pdf)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

50 Hikes in Michigan Part 2

50 Hikes in Michigan
2nd edition with 10 extra hikes
Sixty Walks, Day Trips, and Backpacks in the Lower Peninsula
by Jim DuFresne 1999

In an earlier post I listed several hikes near Kalamazoo from this book's "Heartland" section. Author Jim DuFresne also recommends trails throughout the entire state. I've selected a few hikes from his Lake Michigan section that aren't too far from Kalamazoo.

Lake Michigan hikes

1. Mt Randal Trail, Warren Dunes State Park
4 miles
"This 1,952-acre park offers to hikers a 4-mile loop that includes a bit of everything: a stroll along Lake Michigan, stretches through forests, knee-bending climbs up mountains of sand."

Access: From I-94 exit 16. South on Red Arrow Highway about 2 miles. Camping. Crowded in mid-summer
Warren Dunes State Park

2. Warren Woods, Warren Woods Natural Area
2 miles
"The natural area is open daily from 8 AM-dusk year-round, but the best time to come is late September through mid-November when the leaves take on their autumn colors. Birders arrive in the spring, however, to look for warblers and other songbirds, while skiers enjoy the trails during the winter when there is sufficient snow. The trail is easy to follow and makes an ideal family outing."

Access: posted trailhead on Warren Woods Rd, 7 miles east of Warren Dunes State Park. Or unmarked access from Elm Valley Rd.
Warren Woods Natural Area

3. Baldtop, Grand Mere State Park
2 miles
"The unique land formations and flora that attract naturalists to the park are the reasons Grand Mere was designated a National Natural Landmark. The glaciers that scooped out the Great Lakes 10,000 years ago also carved out a number of smaller depressions along the western edge of the state, which evolved into interdunal lakes, ponds, and wetlands."

Access: South of St Jospeh. Exit 22 from I-94, then west on John Beers Rd which becomes Grand Mere Road. Then south on Thorton Dr to park.
Grand Mere State Park

4. North Trails, Saugatuck State Park

2.5 miles
"Saugatuck State Park is an 899-acre preserve that includes 2 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, windblown dunes, scenic vistas, and, right in the middle of this seemingly undeveloped wooded tract, the Michigan Dunes Correctional Facility."

Access: Exit I-196 at exit 41 onto Blue Star Memorial Highway, west. Then immediately turn right on 64th St. Go north 1 mile to 138th Ave. Left on 138th to park. Popular with x-country skiers.
Saugatuck State Park

5. Homestead Trail, P.J. Hoffmaster State Park

2.7 miles
"In Michigan, we are blessed with a shoreline that showcases 275,000 acres of sand dune formations, the largest display of freshwater dunes in the world. They stretch from the tip of the state's thumb off Saginaw Bay to the giant perched dunes above Lake Superior and include the country's most famous dunes, the Sleeping Bear Dunes,off Lake Michigan. Perhaps the best place to learn and study about these truly remarkable formations is at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park, where you can combine a visit to Gillette Nature Center, Michigan's Sand Dune Interpretive Center, with a hike through the various life zones of a dune along the Homestead Trail."

Access: From I-96, take exit 4 (Fruitport) south on 148th Ave, Then right (west) on Pontaluna Rd. 6 miles on Pontaluna to park.
P.J. Hoffmaster State Park

6. Dune Ridge Trail, Muskegon State Park
6.5 miles
"The trail system is a series of loops that wind through an amazing variety of landscapes including open dunes, interdunal ponds, stands of century-old pines, and an area called Devil's Kitchen, where the mist rises and swirls as if Satan is stirring his caldron. The northern portion of the system surrounds the park's Winter Sports Complex and was cut as cross-country ski trails."

Access: from US 31 exit 118 onto MI 120. Take MI 120 southwest to Memorial Drive which goes into the park. Three campgrounds.
Muskegon State Park

7. Silver Lake Sand Dunes, Silver Lake State Park

6 to 7 miles
"One of the most unusual hikes in the Lower Peninsula isn't on a trail at all. This trek is a journey through Silver Lake State Park's trailless backcountry, a mile-wide strip of dunes between Silver Lake and Lake Michigan. There's not another hike like this in Michigan or even the Midwest because no other stretch of dunes is so barren."

Access: From US 31, south of Ludington, exit west onto Shelby Rd. Six miles to County Rd B15 (18th Ave). Right on B15 (north) for 5 miles. Pass park headquarters and park campground, then left on Hazel Rd. Follow signs to ORV parking lot.
Silver Lake State Park

Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many libraries.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Little Bluestem

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) is an interesting prairie grass. At only 3 feet tall, it's much shorter than Indian Grass, Big Bluestem or Switch grass. In Fall, clumps of Little Bluestem can be striking, as the fluffy seedheads catch the light, drawing your eye to the orange-colored stems.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Milkweed seeds

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) provides food for Monarch caterpillars during the summer. By now the Monarch butterflies have started their 2000+ mile migration to Mexico for the winter. The milkweed is also moving to the next stage in its lifecycle. The silky fibers use wind power to disperse the seeds of the next generation.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Indian Grass

Grasses define the prairie, yet in summer the bright blooms of coneflowers and sylphiums disproportionately attract the eye. Now, the petals have dropped and the brilliant yellows of summer have been succeeded by the muted tones of Fall and the true dominance of the prairie grasses becomes obvious.

Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) is one of the most important plants of the Tallgrass Prairie. The grass grows over six feet high and its roots extend six feet underground.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pumpkin time

Our South American friends were impressed by Michigan's pumpkins. While Halloween is a growing holiday in Uruguay, the tradition of the jack-o-lantern hasn't made it to Montevideo. On our drive from Kalamazoo to Saugatuck we saw some impressive pumpkin displays and we picked up a nice pumpkin at a farm market.

We also made pumpkin pie for our guests & bought a sweet pumpkin bread, which we all enjoyed. I couldn't bring myself to offer them pumpkin beer. (Although I admit that this pumpkin soup recipe sounds pretty good.)

We didn't have time for any of the corn mazes or haunted forests and they had to leave before any of this weekend's Halloween events. I didn't realize, until today, that Halloween camping had become such a big thing in Michigan; that might have made an interesting outing.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Star of Saugatuck

We have visitors from Uruguay this weekend and we wanted to show them some of the natural beauty of Fall in West Michigan. A drive in the country seemed okay but a boat ride sounded like something special.

It turned out that yesterday was the last day of the season for the Star of Saugatuck. We took the 3 pm cruise, a 90 minute round-trip on the Kalamazoo River from Saugatuck to Lake Michigan. The wind from the Lake was brisk, so some took shelter in the enclosed cabin. Others of us bought more chocolate from the boat's snack bar. We all enjoyed seeing the autumn colors from the water. Altogether it made a very pleasant afternoon.

Star of Saugatuck Boat Cruises
716 Water Street
P.O. Box 654
Saugatuck, MI 49453
Phone: 269-857-4261

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Canoeing & Kayaking in Southern Michigan

Adventure Guide to Michigan
by Kevin & Laurie Hillstrom

I've written about this guidebook's regional destinations and bike trails earlier. Here are some recommendations for canoeing & kayaking in southern Michigan from their section On Water:

South Michigan Rivers

1. Dowagiac River

M-62 bridge to Kinzie Road Bridge (off M-51) above Niles Dam: mellow, less than 50 feet wide, good for beginners.
Below Niles Dam to US-31 bridge or to St Jospeph River : quicker current, more challenging.

2. Flat River
from Greenville Dam: a peaceful afternoon float. Camping in Langston, Flat River, & Lowell state game areas (with permit)

3. Grand River

"Michigan's longest river is an ideal testing ground for beginners."
dozens of access points.

4. Huron River
Numerous campgrounds, busy in places.
Good paddling starts at Proud Lake St. Recreation Area & passes through several lakes. Delhi rapids are popular with kayakers (but can be portaged).

5. Raisin River
An endless series of twists and turns earns it "The world's most crooked river"
Several access points, starting at Swain Park in Brooklyn.

6. Rogue River
Good paddling starts at Sparta. Top-notch from Rockford to the Grand River.

7. Shiawassee River
Near Michigan's thumb, "the Shiawassee is ideal for familiy outings or showing the ropes to novice paddlers."
Numerous access points from Bryon down. Prime take-outs at West Gary Bridge & Fergus Road.

8. St. Jospeph River
Wide and deep. Many dams & impoundments.
Good canoeing starts below Tekonsha.

9. Thornapple River

Midsection "offers undemanding floats through attractive woodlands."
Access near Thornapple Lake: Nashville Dam, Thornapple Rd., Barger Rd., Charlton County Park.
Take-out at Irving Dam.

See it at Google books, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


When I was younger, graffiti carved into trees enraged me. I couldn't understand why people would deface nature like that, particularly in parks and nature preserves. Years later, I was surprised to find an explanation in a book on design. Donald Norman, a psychologist and design expert, wrote:

'In one case, the reinforced glass used to panel shelters (for railroad passengers) erected by the British Rail was smashed by vandals as fast as it was renewed. When the reinforced glass was replaced by plywood boarding, however, little further damage occurred, although no extra force would have been required to produce it. Thus British Rail mangaged to elevate the desire for defacement to those who could write, albeit in somewhat limited terms. Nobody has, as yet, considered whether there is some kind of psychology of materials. But on the evidence, there could well be!'

"There already exists the start of a psychology of materials and of things, the study of affordances of objects. When used in this sense, affordance refers to the perceived and actual properties of the thing, primarily those fundamental properties that determine just how the thing could possibly be used. A chair affords ('is for') support and, therefore, affords sitting. A chair can also be carried. Glass is for seeing through, and for breaking. Wood is normally used for solidity, opacity, support, or carving. Flat, porous, smooth surfaces are for writing on. So wood is also for writing on. Hence the problem for British Rail: when the shelters had glass, vandals smashed it; when they had plywood, vandals wrote on and carved it. The planners were trapped by the affordances of their materials."

Similarly the beech tree is trapped by the affordances of its smooth, pale bark.
While initials carved into century-old beeches still make me unhappy, at least I understand it somewhat.

quote from Design of Everyday Things (page 9) by Donald Norman.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Kalamazoo River opens

Parts of the Kalamazoo River affected by this summer's oil spill have been re-opened. I've seen several groups of canoes and kayaks enjoying the fall colors on the river between Mozel Avenue in Parchment and D Avenue.

The river remains closed, however, between Battle Creek and the Morrow Dam. When I visited River Oaks County Park last weekend, booms were still in use and the boat ramp area was fenced for the clean-up crews. Apparently the clean-up is now focused on dredging for oil that sank into the riverbed.

River Country Journal reports the opening of the section of the river near Plainwell that had been closed for PCB clean-up.

update: Most of the river re-opened in June 2012

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Kalamazoo Bike Trail Progress

Another section of the Kalamazoo Valley River Trail opened this week.

A few days ago, the paved trail stopped at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. This afternoon, I was surprised to find new asphalt continuing north. The trail from the nature center to the D Avenue bridge winds downhill through a mature beech forest, making a spectacular ride.

Several groups were already taking advantage of the new trail section. It's a little over a mile, nearly all downhill, to the Kalamazoo River (and then back uphill on the return.) Trail construction continues on the east side of the bridge.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

St Joseph River (Three Rivers)

Fall can be a great time to paddle Michigan's rivers. Last weekend, we tried the Saint Joseph River at Three Rivers, MI. The river is wide and the current barely perceptible, making it easy for beginners. Leaving town, there are a few small factories and an old railroad bridge. Then the river passes through tree-lined banks, with the occasional set of cabins punctuating the woods. After passing Constantine Rd (second bridge) the river opens up even more, weaving around large marshy islands-- a very pretty section. We saw plenty of turtles basking on logs, a few Great Blue Herons, and a group of Mute Swans.

The 5 mile trip from the Conservation Park boat ramp to Withers Road (third bridge) takes about 2 hours. If you want a longer time on the river, there's a take-out at the Constantine dam 2 hours further downstream.

We rented equipment from Liquid Therapy
221 S. Main Street
Three Rivers, MI 49093

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Giant puffball

I only trust my identification skills enough to eat two kinds of wild mushrooms: morels and giant puffballs (Calvatia gigante). While morels blend readily into the woodland floor, giant puffballs can be spotted at a distance thanks to their size and color. It's hard to miss a mushroom as big as your head.

When they're young, they are solid white inside and out. At that stage, slice them into steak-sized slabs and fry them. As they mature the inside turns yellow and loses texture and taste. Eventually the inside turns dark and releases its spores. These two were growing at the Kalamazoo Nature Center, so I left them untouched.

There are smaller puffballs, but I'm afraid I'd confuse them with some poisonous look-a-likes, so I stick with the giant ones.

If you'd like to learn more, the Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club leads public mushroom hunts throughout the state.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

New bike trails

Regardless of your opinion of the Federal stimulus package, it's hard to complain about the new bike trails it financed in Kalamazoo.

This summer's work on the "Northwest Portage Bikeway" connects an existing trail segment in the Haverhill neighborhood to the Portage Creek Bicentennial trail, eliminating the need to fight traffic on Romence Rd. It's now a more pleasant and safer ride.

This season's progress on the Kalamazoo Valley River Trail is even more impressive. A new 5-mile section of trail, running from downtown Kalamazoo to the Kalamazoo Nature Center is almost complete. I rode to the Nature Center this afternoon on the brand new asphalt path. Only one section, of maybe 100 yards, was still under construction. [update: now completed]

The new trail runs along the Kalamazoo River from Mayor's Riverfront park (home of the Kalamazoo Kings), across the river to Parchment then back, behind Markin Glen park, and currently ends at the Nature Center. (Trail construction continues on the section north of the Nature Center. [update: completed) The trail passes through traces of Kalamazoo's industrial heritage and into quiet woodlands. I think this is going to be a very popular ride.

On Saturday October 9th, 2010 you can participate in the KVRT Fall Color Cruise starting at 10:30 am at Markin Glen County Park.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

50 Hikes in Michigan

50 Hikes in Michigan
2nd edition with 10 extra hikes
Sixty Walks, Day Trips, and Backpacks in the Lower Peninsula

by Jim DuFresne 1999

This guidebook, by popular Michigan outdoor writer Jim DuFresne, divides Michigan's lower peninsula in an interesting manner, Southeast, Heartland, Lake Michigan, Pere Marquette, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Tip of the Mitt, and Lake Huron. Each chapter has a trail map and detailed trail description. Kalamazoo, along with Grand Rapids and Lansing, is in the Heartland section.

Heartland hikes

1. Doane Lake, Dr. T.K. Lawless County Park
2 miles
"Dr. T.K. Lawless County Park is one of those little-known preserves in rural Michigan that many hikers would enjoy visiting--if they only knew the place existed. Hidden in central Cass County, the park is a place that is enjoyed only by locals and the few lost travelers who stumble upon it accidentally. Of course, that's one of its attractions: a large park with lakes, ponds, and streams in a wooded tract that is lightly used and suffers few crowds other than the occasional familiy reunion."
Access: 30-40 minutes from Kalamazoo between Jones and Vandalia. From MI 60, turn south on Lewis Lake Rd, then east on Monkey Run Rd. Fee.
Lawless County Park

2. Bishop's Bog Preserve Trail, Portage South-Central Greenway
4.5 miles round trip
"Bishop's Bog Preserve Trail is aptly named. It passes through the heart of a bog that's so wet in the spring that the floating trail has the wiggle of a waterbed and every step results in small eruptions between the plastic planking that will soak your boots. But wet socks and damp toes are a small price to pay for this quick and unusual escape from the city."
Access:From I-94 exit 76 onto Westnedge Ave. South on Westnedge about 4 miles. Turn east on South Shore Drive to West Lake Nature Preserve. Bishops Bog trail starts across street in South Westnedge Park
Bishop's Bog Preserve

3. Long Lake Trail, Yankee Springs Recreation Area
6 miles point-to-point, 7.2 mile loop
"The rugged terrain, inland lakes, interesting bogs, and unusual depressions known as Devil's Soup Bowls provide Yankee Springs Recreation Area with ideal hiking qualities. Its location, almost centered between the urban areas of Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Battle Creek, makes it a popular park with everybody."
Access: From US 131, exit 61 and take A-42 east 7 miles to Gun Lake Rd. Then right. Trailhead is just north of the park headquarters.
Yankee Springs Recreation Area

4. Swan Creek Trail, Allegan State Game Area
5.2 miles
"Swan Creek Trail is best done during the off-season-- either in early May when fiddleheads are popping through the forest floor and the flowering dogwood is in full bloom,or in the fall, when one can witness one of the largest migratory gatherings of waterfowl in the state. In mid-July, you'll find the wildlife scarce, the fishing slow, and the mosquitos and black flies ferocious."
Access: West of Allegan, about halfway between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. From US 131 exit 55 to MI 222. Follow 222 west 10 miles to merge with M-89. Follow M-89 to Monroe Rd. West on Monroe to 118th Ave. Parking at the dam.
Allegan State Game Area

5. Grand River Trail, William M. Burchfield Park and Riverbend Natural Area
3.7 miles
"The hike is best done in the fall when the hardwood trees that border the Grand River take on their orange and red hues, the old farm fields become waves of golden grass, and the deer blend so well with the forest that they're spotted only when when they flag their tails. This stroll takes you through Michigan farm country as well as along the state's longest river."
Access: Just south of Lansing. From I-96 exit 101 onto Mi 99 south. Then left (south) on Waverly Rd, then left (east) on Holt Rd. 1 mile to Grovenberg Rd, turn right (south) 2 miles to park entrance.
Burchfield Park pdf

6. Green Trail, Lake Lansing Park-North
3.3 miles
"The 410-acre preserve is across the street from the popular lake and features day-use facilities, picnic areas, shelters, and volleyball and baseball fields. But the vast majority of the park is a natural setting, an intriguing mix of pines, mature oak, and maple woodlands, and extensive wetlands and marshes accessed by a 5-mile system of footpaths and boardwalks."
Access: From I-96 exit 110 north into Okemos. Turn east on Grand River AVe, then north at Marsh Rd. Take Marsh Rd through Haslett then east on North Lake Dr. 1.5 miles to park.
Lake Lansing Park-North

7. Wildwood Pathway, Deerfield County Park
3 miles
"Near its north entrance, Deerfield features the usual park amenities: swimming area and beach, shelters, tables, grill, and a short interpretive path. But by crossing the Chippewa on a swingbridge, you can leave behind the picnic area and enter a quiet woodland. the 8-mile network of trails includes some surprising sights, such as a wooden covered bridge, scenic vistas above the river, and even a pleasant set of backcountry campsites along the banks of the Chippewa."
Access: West of Mount Pleasant, about an hour from Lansing. From US 27 exit Business 27 through Mt Pleasant. Turn west on Remus Rd (MI 20). 6.5 miles on MI 20 to park. Fee.
Deerfield County Park

8. North Country Trail-- Baldwin Segment, Manistee National Forest
13.2 miles
"Passing from Lake County into Newago County, this portion of the North Country Trail begins in hardwood forests, skirts around Sterling Marsh, and ends by traversing rolling hills for excellent views of several small and undeveloped lakes."
Access: 90 minutes from Grand Rapids. From the town of Baldwin, go south on MI 37 for 3 miles then west on 76th St (Big Star Lake Rd.) 2.5 miles to trail, just before Jenks Rd. Backcountry camping permitted. Vehicle permit required to park.
North Country Trail Manistee

Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many libraries.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

New England Aster

New England Asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) are one of the last wildflowers of the season. Now is the time to enjoy the the aster's pretty purple flowers among the tall prairie grasses and goldenrod. This afternoon the bees seemed to be stocking up for winter.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mountain Biking in southern Michigan

Adventure Guide to Michigan
by Kevin & Laurie Hillstrom

In addition to regional featured destinations, that I posted about earlier, this guidebook has suggestions for individual sports. Here are some recommendations for biking in southern Michigan from their "On Wheels" section.

Mountain Biking
1. Addison Oaks Trails
5 miles
"Local favorite, moderately difficult."
Addison Oaks County Park

2. Fort Custer Trails

"Great mix for beginners and more advanced bikers."
Fort Custer Recreation Area

3. Highland Trails
14.5 mile system
"Probably the most technically challenging circuit in the entire state."
Highland Recreation Area

4. Holdridge Lakes Trail

Holly Recreation Area

5. Island Lake Trails

10 miles
"Detroit-area favorite. Relatively mellow."
Island Lake Recreation Area

6. Lawless Park Trails

10 miles
"Near the state's border, it's a Northern Indiana favorite."
Lawless County Park

7. Pontiac Lake Trails
"Grinding climbs, steep downhill runs, and a variety of technical challenges.
Favorite for competitive riders"
Pontiac Lake Recreation Area

8. Yankee Springs Trails

"These exhilarating and challenging trails are some of the very best that the state has to offer."
Yankee Springs Recreation Area

9. Potawatomi Trail

"One of the state's true biking meccas"
Pinckney Recreation Area

Thursday, September 16, 2010

KalHaven trail

The KalHaven trail runs on the right-of-way of the old Kalamazoo & South Haven Railroad. Officially a state park, the Kal-Haven trail is currently operated by Van Buren County. The trail runs for 34 miles from the 10th Street caboose to South Haven. The Kalamazoo Valley River Trail connects the Kal-Haven trail to downtown Kalamazoo (and will eventually extend to Battle Creek.)

The trail is crushed limestone, smooth enough for all but the skinniest of bike tires. The hills aren't steep since the entire route was graded for railroads, which makes for long-gentle downhill runs and subtly tiring uphill returns. In warm months, the shady path attracts lots of bikes. Snowmobiles dominate the trail in Winter. In Spring, it's surprisingly good for wildflowers. It makes a nice walk in any season.

The Rails to Trails Conservancy has reviews of the Kal-Haven Trail.

trail fees
update: the Kalamazoo Gazette reports the trail is now free.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Saugatuck Dunes State Park

Saugatuck Dunes State Park combines mature forest with sandy lakefront to create one of the best places in West Michigan. Access to the beach is via a shady trail through wooded dunes. The walk is over a half mile, up and down hill, which reduces the crowds substantially-- it's way too far to haul a cooler. The beach is popular on summer weekends, but still relatively quiet.

The park has a system of trails through the woods, enough to make a decent hike. In the winter, it's a good place for cross-country skiing.

The park is just north of the village of Saugatuck (recently named Coolest Small Town). Take Blue Star Highway north to 64th street, turn left on 64th, then left on 138th St.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fall 2010 events

Fall, with cooler weather, less humidity, and colorful leaves, is a great time for camping, biking, paddling, and hiking in West Michigan.

Fall events near Kalamazoo:
Sept 10-12 Midwest Mountain Bike Summit Grand Rapids

Sept 17-18 Salmon Festival Grand Haven

Sept 24-25 Oktoberfest West Michigan John Ball Park Grand Rapids

Oct 2-3 Old Tyme Harvest Festival at Scotts Mill Park Scotts

October 2-3 Feast of the Hunter's Moon West Lafayette, IN

October 8-10 Cranefest at Audubon's Baker Sanctuary near Battle Creek.

Oct 8-10 Goose Festival Fennville

mid-November peak Sandhill Crane migration at Jasper Pulaski in northern Indiana.

November 14 Downtown Kalamazoo Holiday Parade Kalamazoo

Also consider:

Fall walks and rides on the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail

a Fall Color Tour or an Apple Tour

Fresh apple cider from VerHages Cider Mill.

West Michigan Tourist Association has a list of Harvest Time Festivals, a Weekly Color Report, and more Color Tours

More events from Discover Kalamazoo

Sunday, September 5, 2010

52 Michigan Weekends (Fall)

52 Michigan Weekends: Great Getaways and Adventures for Every Season
by Bob Puhala
2000 (3rd edition)
The book suggests destinations for every weekend of the year. I've posted earlier on Winter destinations, Spring destinations, and Summer destinations near Kalamazoo. Here are some fall suggestions from the guidebook:

West Michigan Fall Weekends

1.Goose Gawking
"They arrive every autumn in spectacular fashion. Long V-shaped wedges of honking Canada geese, appearing like straggly black ribbons wafting crazily in the starkly blue fall sky. Sometimes so many Canadas fill the air that the birds literally block out the sun, a great black cloud casting a giant shadow on the farmscape below."
Todd Farm State Game Refuge
Goose Festival

2.Curious Kids' Museum
St Joseph

3. Apple picking paradise
Eau Claire
Tree-Mendus Fruit farm.

4. Sweet Home Chicago
"Located in Coldwater, the Chicago Pike Inn, a luxurious bed-and-breakfast,is a spectacular house built in 1903."

5. Turkeyville USA


6. Wine Country
Paw Paw and Kalamazoo
"Okay, so Kalamazoo is not one of America's 100 most romantic cities. Nor does it in any way re-create the Gallic flavors of Provence. But just as in France, the business is very important here. Because this is the heart of southwest Michigan's 12,000-acre wine country, and Michigan ranks fourth among the wine-producing states of America."
Wine and Harvest Festival
St Julian
Tabor Hill
Vineyard Classic Bicycle tour
Fenn Valley Vineyards
Lemon Creek Winery, Berrien Springs

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Battle Creek Linear Park

Battle Creek's system of bike paths makes a nice outing close to Kalamazoo. The featured attraction is a riverside trail running through downtown Battle Creek and along the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Rivers. Park at Bailey Park and ride through the woods along the Battle Creek River. It's about 4 miles to downtown Battle Creek, where Arcadia Brewing might make a nice stop. The trail continues along the Kalamazoo River to Fort Custer. (I couldn't find an obvious place to park at the Fort Custer end.)

Another trail segment goes north along 20th Street to the Leila Arboretum and then east through various neighborhoods and parks. This section isn't as attractive but it creates a loop back to Bailey Park.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Kalamazoo River Oil Spill

A month after the oil spill, the Kalamazoo River remains closed and the clean-up efforts continue. The spill, which made national news, came from a pipeline running from Indiana to Canada. Unlike the Gulf oil spill, the rupture was stopped relatively quickly, but over 800,000 gallons leaked into Talmadge Creek and flowed into the Kalamazoo River.

Further downstream, the Kalamazoo River is closed for another clean-up project: the removal of PCB-contaminated sediment.

update: Parts of the Kalamazoo River opened in 2010 and most of the river opened in 2012