Sunday, July 31, 2011

River Oaks County Park

River Oaks County Park is a real sports park with a dozen soccer fields, softball diamonds, a model airplane field, and plenty of parking. The park also offers picnic shelters, some hiking trails and a boat ramp on Morrow Lake, an impoundment of the Kalamazoo River.

A year after the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill, access to the river is still closed at River Oaks Park.

In winter, it was a nice park for solitude.

River Oaks County Park
9202 East Michigan Ave (M-96)
Galesburg, MI

Admission $5 daily. Season pass $25.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) doesn't have the show-stopping flowers of the Butterfly Milkweed but the pale pink flowers are attractive enough. They're particularly attractive to butterflies, most famously the Monarch.

Milkweed is named for its thick white sap, which protects the plant from many herbivores since it contains bitter cardiac glycosides that are toxic in large doses. Certain insects, like the Monarch Butterfly, have adapted to tolerate this poison and, in fact, are able to incorporate it as their own chemical defense against predators.

The USDA has an informative pdf on the Common Milkweed.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Wild blueberry

Wild blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) are ripening now. These are highbush blueberries, closely related to the commercially-farmed berries grown near Kalamazoo. Michigan also has two species of lowbush blueberries that only grow a few inches high, while the highbush blueberry grows several feet tall. The sweet fruits are popular with birds, animals, and people.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Water lily spirals

The other day I was paddling on Portage Lake (from Coldbrook County Park) and I noticed these spiral stems on many submerged water lilies. At the time, I thought they were new blossoms and I wondered why they grew from a corkscrew stem. A little web surfing showed me I had been wrong in assuming they were new buds. Apparently White Water Lilies (Nymphaea odorata) emerge on straight stems but after pollination the stems twist into a spiral pulling the flower underwater where the seeds mature.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Rocky River (Three Rivers)

Three Rivers, a town about half an hour south of Kalamazoo, offers several choices for canoe trips. Last fall we tried the St Joseph River; yesterday, we paddled the Rocky River. Compared to the St Joseph River, the Rocky was narrower, shallower, and twistier with a better current.

We started at a bridge on Null Road in a suburban area northwest of town, where the river took us through a mix of manicured lawns and natural areas. Downstream, farmers were irrigating their fields with river water. We saw Blue Herons, muskrats, turtles, frogs and a Kingfisher and we watched a colorful Goldfinch take a bath at the river's edge. About two hours into the paddle, we came to the dock at Brewster's where we stopped for a cold beverage.

Near the end of the river the current picked up, with a few rapids. We scouted the whitewater from a footbridge in the city park and decided to portage. We did watch three boats run the rapids, none successfully. The water was shallow enough that the paddlers were able to just stand up and start again.

From there, the river ran through Skidmore Park where we saw an emu in the small zoo. Then a series of riffles led to the Saint Joseph River. The end of the trip was directly across the river at the Conservation Park boat ramp.

Boat rental and spotting are available from
Liquid Therapy
221 S. Main Street
Three Rivers, MI 49093

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Prairie Flowers

While the Kalamazoo Nature Center is my favorite spot for Spring wildflowers, I don't always think of it for summer blooms. I visited earlier this week and the prairie flowers were spectacular. Black-eyed Susan were at their peak. Monarch butterflies were drinking nectar from the Wild Bergamot. Butterfly Milkweed and Common Milkweed were in flower, along with both purple and yellow coneflowers.
Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta

Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea

Purple Prairie Clover Dalea purpurea

Wild Bergamot Monarda fistulosa

The prairie flowers can be easily seen from the Prairie View parking lot (on Westnedge about a half mile south of the main entrance) and from the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail. To walk the prairie, start at the Interpretive Center, cross the bridge over Trout Run stream, then head uphill. The bright colors of the prairie make quite a contrast from the cool dark woods.

Kalamazoo Nature Center

7000 N. Westnedge Avenue
Kalamazoo, MI 49009

Sunday, July 10, 2011

American Kestrel

The American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) is the smallest bird of prey found near Kalamazoo. They eat grasshoppers and other insects in the summer and mice and small mammals in the winter. They nest in tree cavities, often in holes created by woodpeckers, and feed in open areas. They are often seen perched on telephone lines watching for prey. The species is widely distributed throughout North and South America.

The bird pictured is used in education programs at the Kalamazoo Nature Center.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Adventure Cycling in Michigan

Adventure Cycling in Michigan: Selected On & Off Road Rides
The Adventure Cycling Association

This guidebook describes 39 bike rides throughout the state, organized into four regions: Upper Peninsula, North Lakes, Southwest Michigan, Southeast Michigan. Detailed directions, accompanied by maps and black and white photos, are given for each tour. Many of them are reasonably close to Kalamazoo.

Southwest Michigan Cycling
1. Kal-Haven Trail
Start: South Haven
End: Kalamazoo
Distance: 33.5 miles
Kal-Haven Trail

2. Paw Paw Way
Start & End: Paw Paw
Distance: 34.8 miles

3. Holland-Saugatuck Connection
End: Saugatuck
Distance: 15 miles

4. Grand Haven Trail
Start: Grand Haven State Park
End: Holland
Distance: 21 miles
Lakeshore Connector Path

5. Lake Michigan Trek
Start: Holland
End: Mackinac Bridge in Mackinaw City
Distance: 387.3 miles
League of Michigan Bicyclists' Shoreline West Bicycle Tour

6. Coopersville Ramble
Start & End: Coopersville
Via: Nunica, Grand Haven, Eastmanville, Lamont
Distance: 46.2 miles

7. Last Train to Clarksville
Start & End: Ada
Via: Clarksville & Lowell
Distance 41.5 miles

This book appears to be out-of-print but Amazon offered copies through its affiliates. I found it at my local library.

See the Adventure Cycling Association website.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Grand Haven State Park

Grand Haven State Park has a great beach and it's very popular on summer weekends. Crowds of visitors stroll the wide walkway along the Grand River between the state park and the downtown restaurants and shops. The beach itself is wide and long with plenty of nets for beach volleyball, an ice cream stand, changing rooms, and lots of smooth sand. The park is right at the edge of town so it doesn't have the wooded dunes that some other Lake Michigan parks offer. It doesn't really have any grass-- just one big beach.

In May, the park hosts the Great Lakes Kite Festival, which I really enjoyed.

The state park campground has a great location but it's basically a parking lot on the beach. The RVs are packed tightly, with just a line painted on asphalt to separate campsites. I wouldn't want to camp there with my tent.

Grand Haven is a little over an hour from Kalamazoo.

Grand Haven State Park
1001 Harbor Avenue
Grand Haven, MI 49417
Phone Number: (616) 847-1309