Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thornapple River

The Thornapple River, less than an hour from Kalamazoo, is one of my favorites. It's an easy river to paddle with shallow water and plenty of woods and wildlife.

Our paddle from Charlton Park to Hastings took around two hours on a beautiful Sunday afternoon with turtles sunning on logs and cedar waxwings flying overhead. The river was wide and slow at Charlton Park, since it's the end of Thornapple Lake. Downstream, past the cottages, the river narrows and you can drift with the current between wooded banks. That section was popular for innertube floats. We did pass several groups on the river, but it was only crowded in one short section.

Canoes, kayaks, and innertubes are available from
U-Rent-Em Canoe Livery
805 W. Apple St.
Hastings, Michigan 49058

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Kirk Park

Kirk Park, on Lake Michigan between Holland and Grand Haven, is set in the forest. Trees shade the drive to the playground, picnic shelter, and parking. Paved paths lead through the woods to the wide beach. Other trails climb steeply up the wooded dunes to scenic overviews and make several loops through the park. Trails are closed to bikes but they are open for cross-country skiers in the winter.

Kirk Park makes a great stop on the Lakeshore Connector path.

Park map [pdf]

$6 parking fee. Discount for Ottawa County residents.
Annual passes available.
Free admission for pedestrians and bikes

Kirk Park
9771 Lakeshore Ave N,
West Olive, MI

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lakeshore Conector

The Lakeshore Connector is a paved bike path that runs 20 miles along Lakeshore Drive from Holland, Michigan to Grand Haven. The trail itself is pleasant but not particularly scenic since Lake Michigan is hidden behind private homes on wooded dunes and the landscape is more suburban than rural. The trail, however, does connect some great beach parks: Holland State Park in the south, then Tunnel Beach, Kirk Park is near the trail's midpoint, followed by Rosy Mound Natural Area, and then Grand Haven State Park in the north. Any of these parks makes a nice destination.

Another natural area along the trail is the Palomita Reserve, a Great Lakes marsh preserved by the Land Conservancy of West Michigan. There's a marsh overlook on the trail and an option for a woodland walk through the reserve. It's a little north of Kirk Park.

On the north, the path ends at the city limits of Grand Haven but riders can continue on sidewalks or streets. Duncan Park, in Grand Haven, offers a scenic but hilly ride through a mature beech woods on the way to the downtown or waterfront. I never saw any signs to the Lakeshore Connector trail but we found our way easily enough.

Trail maps are available in Ottawa County's "Bike Grand Haven & Holland" brochure [pdf]

Approximate distances (one way)
Holland State Park to Tunnel Beach 2.7 miles
Tunnel Beach to Kirk Park 11 miles
Kirk Park to Grand Haven 9 miles

Parking fee at parks; no park fee for bikes.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Blue Flag Iris

Blue Flag Iris (Iris virginica) is one of the showiest flowers of early summer. These native wildflowers grow in wet areas-- at the edge of ponds and rivers, in marshes, bogs, floodplains and wet prairies. It can be found across much of the Eastern United States. They've been in bloom in Kalamazoo for a couple of weeks.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wild cranberry

Wild cranberries (Vaccinium oxycoccos) are blooming now. I didn't recognize the tiny flowers but they were easy to find in a guidebook. Michigan has a similar species, the large cranberry, (Vaccinium macrocarpon) but based on the leaves I think the flowers pictured are the small cranberry. Both plants are native to bogs and grow throughout the northern US and in Canada.
Cranberries are in the blueberry family, but the plants only grow a few inches tall. Wild blueberries grow in the same bog but the plants are much taller. The blueberry bushes have already set fruit.

Other nearby plants included Lady's Slipper, whose flowers were mostly gone, and Snake's Mouth orchid which are just starting to bloom.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Yellow Pond Lily

Yellow Pond Lilies (Nuphar lutea) bloom earlier in Michigan than our White Water Lilies. Both native plants grow in ponds and slow moving streams throughout the United States and Canada. Yellow Pond Lilies are also known as Spadderdock.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Michigan Sand Dunes

The Complete Guide to Michigan Sand Dunes
by Jim DuFresne

"But what sets us apart from any other state, what has become our natural trademark, are sand dunes, those grassy-covered mounds and hills of drifting sand created by glaciers, carved by the wind. More than 275,000 acres of dune formations have been identified in Michigan, making it the largest collection of freshwater dunes in the world."

This guide, by a prolific Michigan outdoor author, describes 47 dune parks and preserves in Michigan. All but six of them are on Lake Michigan and nearly half are close to Kalamazoo. Each chapter includes a description of the park's features, facilities and activities, along with a park map, often with topographic lines to show the dunes. Directions to each area are included and many parks are illustrated with black & white photos.

Lake Michigan Sand Dunes (Southern half)
1. Warren Dunes State Park

2. Weko Beach

3. Grand Mere State Park

4. Van Buren State Park
South Haven

5. Mount Baldhead & Oval Beach
chain ferry

6. Saugatuck Dunes State Park

7. Laketown Beach

8. Holland State Park

9. Tunnel County Park

10. Kirk County Park
Grand Haven

11. Rosy Mound Natural Area
Grand Haven

12. Kitchel-Lindquist Dunes

13. PJ Hoffmaster State Park

14. Kruse Park

15. Muskegon State Park

16. Duck Lake State Park

17. Meinert County Park

18. Silver Lake State Park
dune rides

19. Charles Mears State Park

There are, of course, many dunes further north along Lake Michigan and this guide describes those as well. Besides the individual park descriptions, the author includes sidebars on related features, such as the Paw Paw, Lakeshore Connector bike trail between Holland & Grand Haven.

Available from Amazon, Google Books, Barnes & Noble and other retailers and libraries.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Michigan Rivers Less Paddled

Michigan Rivers Less Paddled: The Rivers, The Towns, The Taverns
by Doc Fletcher

Michigan Rivers Less Paddled is a sequel to Canoeing in Michigan by the same author. This book describes another twenty-one rivers throughout the state, including several near Kalamazoo.

Southwest Michigan Rivers
1. Thornapple River
"The river has a national reputation as a fine smallmouth bass stream. The suggested river trip is right in the middle of some of the river's best fishing..."
Start at Charlton Park Bridge/Rivergate Campground; end at U-Rent-Em Canoe Livery in Hastings
3 hours
Skill level: beginner
Town: Hastings
Tavern: Olde Towne Tavern Co.
Canoe rental at U-Rent-Em Canoe Livery

2. Dowagiac River

"The river feel was rustic (even more than most rivers), the water flowed quickly down long straight-aways, the many logs just above and just below the surface kept us alert and on our toes, and the trees leaning in from each bank formed a canopy above us, acting as a coolant on a hot summer day."
Start at Doe-Wah-Jack livery; end at M62 Bridge
2 hours
Skill level: intermediate
Town: Dowagiac
Tavern: Wounded Minnow Saloon
Canoe rental at Doe-Wah-Jack's Canoe Rental

3. Kalamazoo River
"Without protective tree cover, the winds and sands coming off of Lake Michigan quickly eroded Singapore into ruins. By 1875, the town was vacated (many residents moved to The Flats, i.e. Saugatuck) and completely covered over by sand drifts. Today Singapore is buried beneath the dunes."
Start at Ottawa Marsh (128th & 46th Roads); end at Old Allegan Road (at 58th St)
3 hours
Skill level: beginner
Town: Saugatuck
Tavern: Wally's Bar & Grill
Canoe rental at Old Allegan Canoe

4. Rocky River

"The view looking north from the bridge is sweet: the Rocky white water flows beneath a foot bridge, cascading down a series of rocks before wrapping around a grassy island." [Portage suggested here.]
Start at Null Road Bridge; end at Liquid Therapy ramp (across St. Joe River)
2 hours 25 minutes.
Skill level: intermediate
Town: Three Rivers
Tavern: Brewster's
Canoe rental at Liquid Therapy

5. Grand River
"The Grand's Indian name is 'O-wash-ta-nong', meaning far-away-water, a name well-suited to a 260-mile long river."
Start at Tompkins Road; end at Grand Adventures livery.
2.5 - 3 hours.
Skill level: intermediate
Town: Jackson
Tavern: Archey's (in Onondaga)
Canoe rental at Grand Adventures

6. Rogue River
"For thousands of years before the Europeans arrived, the Rogue was the main transportation route linking Native Americans in the Grand Rapids area with their cousins near Newaygo."
Start at 12 Mile Road Bridge (at Friske Road); end 100' before Rockford dam
2 hours
Skill level: beginner
Town: Rockford
Taverns: Rogue River Tavern; Grill One Eleven
Canoe rental at Powers Outdoors

7. Looking Glass River

"Deeply beautiful reflections off of the river's surface, as the water gently ripples over rocks, treat you to a visual paradise throughout."
Start at Lowell Bridge; end at Wacousta Canoe Livery
3-4 hours
Skill level: intermediate
Town: Portland
Tavern: Duke's Cajun Grill (aka Duke's Canoe Club)
Canoe rental at Wacousta Canoe Livery

Available from Amazon, or directly from the author and from other booksellers and libraries.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Blandings Turtle

When my daughter and I saw this turtle crossing the Kal-Haven Trail, we immediately knew it wasn't any of the four Michigan turtles we could name off the top of our heads (Painted, Snapping, Softshell, or Box) but neither of us could remember it. A quick visit to this Michigan Herps webpage showed us it was a Blanding's Turtle (Emys blandingii or Emydoidea blandingii).

The turtle was fresh from the pond, with duckweed on its shell, most likely on her way to lay eggs on a warm day in late Spring.

Blanding's Turtles are listed as a species of special concern in Michigan.