Sunday, January 30, 2011

Milham Park Cross-Country Skiing

I'm not sure how I missed Kalamazoo's Milham Park as a ski area. For several years, the Kalamazoo Nordic Skiers club has groomed a trail on the Milham Park golf course, with both traditional x-country tracks and a skate lane. Trail conditions, of course, vary with snowfall and temperature. See the club's Trail Conditions Report for the latest information.

I'd been watching the trail condition reports since December but there never seemed to be enough snow or else I had other commitments. This Thursday, after work, I made my first visit to the course.

I expected the groomed tracks to give Milham Park a big advantage over my usual cross-county ski trails in Kalamazoo, but the real advantage is that the tracks aren't erased by trail-runners, snow-shoers, and dog-walkers. Milham Park's trails are mostly level with a couple of easy hills to add interest. As you'd expect from a golf course, it isn't in a forest. At times, the trail skirts backyards but overall it's nicely landscaped. It took me about an hour to complete two circuits. (The skate-skiers were moving much faster than that.)

The trail is right in town, nicely groomed, and free. I certainly plan to return.

Directions: From I-94 take exit 78, Portage Rd/Kilgore Road. Go west on Kilgore to Lovers Lane, then north. The parking lot for the ski trail is on Lovers Lane, just north of Portage Creek.

Milham Park
4200 Lovers Lane
Kalamazoo, MI

Milham Park History
Milham Park Golf Course

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Skiing at the Kalamazoo Nature Center

A guidebook I read last year, Winter Trails Michigan, had selected the Kalamazoo Nature Center as one of the best ski trails in the state. This confused me. While I visit the Nature Center dozens of times a year, I never considered it a good place for cross-country skiing. The trails near the visitor center are narrow and, in places, steep: great walking but not so great on skis. The arboretum section is wide open and easy to ski but not that scenic.

Eventually it dawned on me that I had been missing the obvious. The trails around the Nature Center's Delano Homestead would be perfect for skiing. Wide trails along fields and through woods with modest slopes to add interest.

A quick visit confirmed this. The Delano trails make a very nice ski outing.

Delano Homestead

Kalamazoo Nature Center
555 West E Ave
Kalamazoo, MI

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ski Alamo Township Park

I hadn't heard about cross-country skiing at Alamo Township Park until I happened to pick up a xeroxed flyer at a Kalamazoo sports store. Alamo is a small town on the Kal-Haven trail about 5 miles northwest of Kalamazoo. (Fricano's Pizza is probably the best known landmark in Alamo.)

The township park has three short trails, totaling about 2 miles. Parking is at the baseball diamonds and the trails loop through the woods west of the ball fields. A nice bridge across Sand Creek conects them.

The trails are groomed and fairly level, making for easy skiiing. The West Trail loop (across unplowed 5th St) intersects the Kal-Haven trail, so a longer extension would be possible. (Although the Kal-Haven trail was pretty gritty from snowmobile use when I visited.)

Alamo Township Park
DE Avenue, just west of 6th Street
Alamo, MI

The township plans a Winter festival Saturday Feb 12, 2011 at the park.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pileated Woodpecker

Large chips of bark & wood falling from above alerted us to this Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) at the Kalamazoo Nature Center last weekend. It was high in a tree directly above the trail & the snow was littered with debris. My daughter caught several pieces as they fell, including one with small, white larva. I'd seen Pileated Woodpeckers in that area on a couple of occasions but this one is the first one to stay in one place long enough for a photo. These are such impressive birds. Another smaller woodpecker, feeding on a nearby branch, was dwarfed by the Pileated.

I've heard that Pileated Woodpeckers provided the inspiration for the cartoon Woody Woodpecker but apparently that's disputed.

The Audubon Society of Kalamazoo plans a talk on the "Return of the Pileated Woodpecker" January 24, 2011 at 7:30 at the People’s Church, 1758 North 10th Street, Kalamazoo.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Schrier Park Winter Sports Fest

Saturday, Portage held its annual Winter Sports Fest in Schrier Park. It's a low-key, free event which gave people a chance to try snow shoes or cross-country skis, to ride in a horse-drawn sleigh, or to learn about dogsledding or winter camping. Dan Keto of the Kalamazoo Nature Center discussed nature in Winter. Lee's Sports provided equipment and instruction.

I tried a pair of snowshoes and enjoyed hiking the snowy trails.

update: Schrier Park Winter Sports Fest 2012 is scheduled for Saturday January 21, from noon-3:30pm. Free.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ski Warren Woods

This Tuesday, I was supposed to be on jury duty but my group was excused. I'd already cleared the day, so I had it free for skiing. Kalamazoo's snow was still a little sparse, so I headed for Love Creek County Park. After a couple of nice loops I decided to try another spot in Berrien County.

A guidebook suggested Warren Woods State Park and it was decidedly different from Love Creek: no grooming, no degree-of-difficulty ratings, no visitor center, no off-street parking, and no other people. It did share a substantial amount of lake effect snow.

Warren Woods has over 300 acres of hardwood forest. About half of it is old-growth maples & beech (with a bad beech vandalism problem.) The path is fairly level except for steep sections on the banks of the Galien River, where I took off my skis and walked. The trail runs nearly a mile from Warren Woods Rd to Elm Valley Rd, a fairly straight line through the center of the park. I'd forgotten how much work it is to break trail in deep snow. The return trip was easier since I could ski in my own tracks.

A few miles further west on Warren Woods Rd, I drove past the Chikaming Township Park and Preserve (pdf) which had some nice looking trails, but I didn't have time or energy to try them.

Warren Woods State Park
Elm Valley Road or Warren Woods Road
about 3 miles north of Three Oaks Michigan
(pdf map)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Dogsled event

On Saturday, we went to Ft Custer Recreation Area to see the dogsled races. I wasn't sure exactly where they were taking place, so we drove around the empty park for a while before finding the dogsledders in the campground. There were a lot of dog teams there, some harnessed to sleds and some resting in campsites. It felt very northern. Some of the dogs were very tranquil while others would howl when people or dogs walked past. The people were all friendly and one invited us to pet her dogs.

I couldn't figure out how the races worked, since I expected officials to start a group of teams and, later, timers to record the finishes but none of that was in place. Yet it was enjoyable watching the eagerness and the power of the dogs running through the woods. Fresh snow, mild temperatures, and a brilliant blue sky contributed to the pleasant outing.

Later, I read on the dogsled club website that this weekend's races at Ft Custer had been canceled and that a fun run would be held instead. Their other races this season are all a few hours north of Kalamazoo.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

National Geographic State Park Guide

National Geographic Guide to the State Parks of the United States, 3rd edition
National Geographic Society

This guidebook describes over 200 state parks and illustrates them with National Geographic's renowned color photographs. Parks are grouped into ten regions-- New England, Middle Atlantic, Southeast, Great lakes, Central Plains, South Central, Southwest, The Rockies, Northwest, Far West-- with color locator maps for each area.

Two of the selected parks are fairly close to Kalamazoo: Hoffmaster State Park and Indiana Dunes State Park. The rest of the parks in the Great Lakes region are within a day's drive and almost all of them have campgrounds.

Nearby Parks
P.J. Hoffmaster State Park
10 miles south of Muskegon, MI on US 31 and Pontaluma Road.
"Many park visitors come to enjoy the beach at the north end of the park, but there are many opportunities for solitude hiking among the wooded sand dunes that have been anchored here by trees that have taken root." Dune Climb Stairway, Gillette Visitor Center, 10 miles of trails, cross-country skiing, 293 campisites, 1183 acres, fee.
P.J. Hoffmaster State Park
6585 Lake Harbor Road
Muskegon, MI 49441

Indiana Dunes State Park
2 miles north of Chesterton,IN on Indiana 49.
"Nestled withing the 14,000 acre Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore this state park holds some of the prize scenary of a nonpareil lakeside landscape, including the highest dunes on the shore, dune 'canyons' blown out by winds off Lake Michigan, and a popular swimming beach." Nature center, Trail 8 to Mount Tom, Trail 9 around Beach House Blowout, smelting (April, May), cross country skiing, 140 campsites, 2182 acres, fee.
Indiana Dunes State Park
1600 N. County Road 25E
Chesterton, IN 46304

Great Lakes State Parks


1. P.J. Hoffmaster
2. Hartwick Pines
3. Mackinac Island
4. Fort Wilkins
5. Porcupine Mountains


1. Indiana Dunes
2. Brown County
3. Spring Mill
4. Falls of the Ohio


1. Starved Rock
2. Mississippi Palisades
3. Giant City
4. Ferne Clyffe
5. Fort Massac


1. Maumee Bay
2. Kelley Island
3. Hueston Woods
4. Hocking Hills

1. Devils Lake
2. Peninsula
3. Rock Island
4. Copper Falls


1. Forestville/Mystery Cave
2. Blue Mounds
3. Tettegoche
4. Itasca
5. Soudan Underground Mine

Available from Amazon, the National Geographic Store, other booksellers and libraries.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Night visitor

Just past the winter solstice, Michigan has about six hours less daylight than it does in mid-summer, so it can can feel pretty dark and gloomy. For nocturnal animals, the long night means more overlap with people. On New Year's Day, this raccoon (Procyon lotor) was in my backyard during dinner.