Sunday, February 26, 2012

Ski Yankee Springs

Yankee Springs Recreation Area offers a wide range of outdoor activities; I've gone camping, hiking, mountain biking, and canoeing there but somehow I'd never skied Yankee Springs. I took advantage of the late February snow to try it on Saturday.

The cross-country ski trails are in the center of the park. A series of signs led to the "Winter Sports area" which was a small parking area off Gun Lake Road where the ski trails, and a separate snowmobile trail, begin. A nearby small lot, on the road to the Long Lake Outdoor Center, also offered trail access.

The ski trails are laid across several hiking and mountain bike trails which made for a somewhat confusing system. There are plenty of signs and trail markers (labeled alphabetically) but the trail maps [pdf] don't offer the same level of detail. I came across a handful of other skiers and half of them asked if I knew where we were. No one was really lost, since the trails are easy to follow, but no one was well-oriented. I'm sure after a few visits, it seems obvious.

The trails run through an attractive mix of hardwood and pine forests. There are a good number of hills that, while not technically demanding, would be hard for a beginner. The park has over 5000 acres so there are miles of skiable trails. I skied for two hours without coming close to finishing the entire trail system.

Yankee Springs State Recreation area is about 35 miles north of Kalamazoo. (North on US 131 to exit 61. Then east on M-179 to the park entrance.)

Yankee Springs State Recreation Area
2104 S. Briggs Road
Middleville, MI 49333
Phone Number: (269) 795-9081

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Woodland Park

Woodland Park and Nature Preserve is in Battle Creek. It offers three loop trails totaling about 2.5 miles on a 145 acre property. I visited in early February, on the same afternoon I went to Ott Preserve. I'd hoped to return this winter to cross-country ski, but I'm no longer optimistic about our prospects for snow. Maybe next year.

In any case, the park offered a nice mix of forest, fields, and rolling hills with well-marked trails. Printed trail maps were available at the entrances. The park gave a distinct impression of newness, with evidence of energetic plans for its future. A silo at one entrance and a piece of old farm equipment in the woods gave evidence of the land's agricultural past.

Woodland Park and Nature Preserve
2518 Gethings Road
Battle Creek, MI

Another entrance, with parking, is on Helmer Road (14201 block)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Barred Owl

Barred Owls (Strix varia) are another bird I'm more likely to hear than to see since they are nocturnal. Barred Owls are widely distributed throughout the eastern US and Canada. They are smaller than the Great Horned Owl and bigger than a Screech Owl.

The bird shown here is used in educational programs at the Kalamazoo Nature Center.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Maple Syrup Festivals 2012

This Winter has been so mild, it will be hard to tell when Spring arrives. It is coming and the maple sap will flow, bringing syrup season to the north. Warm days in February (along with cold nights) have allowed some producers an early start.

Maple events near Kalamazoo

March 1 Backyard Maple Sugaring(reservations needed) Blandford Nature Center Grand Rapids

March 3-4 Maple Sugar Madness 2 pm Sarett Nature Center Benton Harbor

March 3-4 and March 10-11 Maple Sugar Time 10am - 4pm Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Chellberg Farm Chesterton, IN

March 17-18 47th Annual Maple Sugar Festival Kalamazoo Nature Center 9am – 5pm Kalamazoo

March 17-18 Sugar Camp Days St Joseph (IN) County Parks Bendix Woods County Park, New Carlisle, IN

March 17 Maple Syrup Day at Kellogg Forest, 11am-5pm Augusta

March 24 Sugarbush Festival & Pancake Breakfast Blandford Nature Center Grand Rapids

March weekends Maple Sugar Time at the Van Raalte farm DeGraaf Nature Center Holland

April 20-22 Wakarusa Maple Syrup Festival, Wakarusa, Indiana

April 27-29 71st Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival Vermontville

Also consider

Spring Events around Kalamazoo

Oakland County Maple Syrup Events

National Maple Syrup Festival Medora, IN

Shepherd Maple Syrup Festival

Make your own Maple Syrup

Maple Syrup festivals in the Midwest (mostly Wisconsin and Minnesota)

Ontario Maple Syrup Festivals

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Ski Fort Custer

It's been a few years since I'd skied at Fort Custer, partially because parks to the west of Kalamazoo often have more snow. This season the Lake effect snow has been minimal, so this morning we decided to try Fort Custer State Recreation Area. The snow was barely deep enough to ski, with the occasional root or branch sticking through the surface, but much better than the 1 inch depth reported near Lake Michigan.

Fort Custer has something like 25 miles of trails of differing levels of difficulty. In the summer, they're used by mountain bikers and horseback riders. In winter, skiers and dogsleds. Hikers all year round.

This morning, We skied around Whitford Lake which took just over an hour. The trail was clearly marked and easy to follow through the woods. There were a few hills, including a couple we decided to walk. Overall it's fairly accessible for beginners.

We saw a few Blue Jays, Chickadees, and swans, but the most impressive sight was a pair of noisy Sandhill Cranes flying overhead. It seems a little early for Spring migration but there was no mistaking these big birds.

Fort Custer Recreation Area
just east of Augusta on M-96
about 16 miles from Kalamazoo

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Great Lakes Vacations

Great Lakes
88 Great Vacations

Doris Scharfenberg

This guidebook describes vacation destinations around Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario and on connecting waters, like Lake St Clair or the Niagara River. The book is illustrated with a few sketches and hand-drawn maps. It would make a good resource for anyone planning a Circle Tour around one of the Great Lakes. The vacations listed in this book stretch from Minnesota to New York. Michigan is well-represented, with destinations on 4 of the 5 lakes. I've selected a few destinations close to Kalamazoo.

Great Lakes Vacations in West Michigan

1. Michigan's Wide-Awake Sunset Towns
"By rare geologic luck, Michigan has a long chain of lakes immediately behind its western coast. Lake Macatawa (Holland), Muskegon Lake (Muskegon), Pere Marquette Lake (Ludington), and Manistee Lake are among the many harbors for commerce and plaeaure. Neither the Wisconsin coast nor any Lake Huron shore has this advantage."
Point Betsie
Ludington State Park
White Lake/Whitehall/Montague
Canoe the White River
West Michigan Tourist Association

2. Lakeside Bonanzas in Muskegon
"The largest city of the east coast of Lake Michigan sprawls loosely over a wide area, ties in with a great state park and would like some things in its past to be forgotten. In 1887, forty-seven Muskegon sawmills were consuming forests like locusts on a binge, leaving years of depression when the trees ran out."
Muskegon County Museum
Hackley Public Library
Michigan Adventure
Muskegon State Park
Hoffmaster State Park
Muskegon Visitors Bureau

3. Town of the Dancing Waters: Grand Haven
"Two shouts below Muskegon, a trio of towns shares a watery access to Michigan's southern heartland: Grand Haven, Ferrysburg, and Spring Lake. Grand Haven is largest and the only one with water on three sides, but the three are close enough to share the same big events."
Coast Guard Festival
Grand Haven State Park
Grand Haven Area Visitors Bureau

4. New Furnishings For Grand Rapids
"Stand at the door of the Oval Office, then fish for salmon in a business suit one block away-- you can do it in Grand Rapids, Michigan's second largest city. Planted as a seedling village on a curve of the Grand River where water bubbled down over a stretch of rocks, the city's fame and fortune came from lumbering, manufacturing, cleansers (Amway Products), publishing, and in some measure from being the boyhood home of President Gerald Ford. The biggest claim to fame, however, has been as a furniture maker without peer."
Gerald R Ford Museum
Van Andel Public Museum
Fish ladder at Sixth Street dam
John Ball Park Zoo
Meijer Gardens
Heritage Hill
Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau

5. Saucy Holland Days
"Minutes away from Lake Michigan, the sweet city of Holland hugs the east end of Lake Macatawa, quiet, scrubbed, and as lively as a tulip in the breeze. Founded by Netherlands' immigrants, its population today is a diverse mix, yet the Dutch heritage remains in charge."
Windmill Island
Veldheers Tulip Farm
Dutch Village
Tulip Festival
Holland State Park
Holland Convention and Visitors Bureau

6. Artful Saugatuck
"Searchers for the perfect bed and breakfast do consider pausing around Saugatuck, sometimes called the Marth's Vineyard of the Midwest. It is a village that manages to be famous, chic, historic, quaint, and unspoiled all at once. An even smaller hamlet, Douglas, shares the same wide spot on the Kalamazoo River (called Lake Kalamazoo) just inside the coast of Lake Michigan and a few miles south of Holland."
Chain ferry
galleries, gift shops, boutiques
SS Keewatin
Star of Saugatuck

7. Michigan's Sunny Southwest Corner
"The number of brochures declaring this of that vacation spot as an "all-season paradise" could fill the hold of a large freighter. However, the southwest corner of Michigan has a hefty list of year-round getaway goals, from scenic to gastronomic, with U-Pick farms, wineries, wonderful beaches, pretty towns, great fishing, winter sports, fall color, and quick access."
National Blueberry Festival South Haven
Liberty Hyde Museum South Haven
Canoe the Black River [pdf map]South Haven
Kalamazoo Nature Center Kalamazoo
Air Zoo Kalamazoo
Magic store Colon
Blossomtime Festival St Joseph
Lake Bluff Park St Joseph
Grand Mere State Park
Warren Dunes State Park
Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council

This book seems to be out of print. Booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble may have used copies. I found a copy at my library.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Ice Breaker

South Haven's annual Ice Breaker festival is held in the middle of winter but this weekend the weather felt more like Spring. It was warm enough in the sun that the ice sculptures carved in the morning had melted by mid-afternoon. Fortunately, South Haven's ice rink has its own freezer units so that ice was cold enough to support performances by synchronized skaters from Western Michigan University and Grand Valley State University.

The chili contest attracted lots of interest and the mild temperatures drew crowds to the outside decks of the Idler and South Haven Yacht Club where they could enjoy a cold drink after their spicy chili.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ott Preserve

Unseasonably warm weather squashed my plans to cross-country ski this week. Instead, I took a walk in the woods at the Ott Biological Preserve outside Battle Creek. Initially, the trail didn't look very promising-- backyards, scrubby trees, invasive groundcovers, and mud-- but I guess not much in Michigan is at its best on a snowless day in February.

A few minutes down the trail and the houses disappeared and the trees got bigger and the trail itself was drier. Small, but informative, signs described various natural phenomena visible from the trail. One noted that the trail follows an esker, a ridge created during the last Ice Age. A boardwalk crossed wet ground, where ferns and moss provided a touch of green among the fallen leaves. Side trails led to two small lakes within the preserve.

The mix of mature woods, shrub swamps, bogs, and open water provides substantial habitat diversity within a relatively small area. It looks promising for wildflowers; I noticed some round-lobed hepatica at the edge of the path.

The preserve trail system seemed to be three irregularly-shaped interconnected loops. They were clearly-marked and well-maintained so they were easy to follow without a map. A section of the North County National Scenic Trail passes through the preserve.

Last Spring, there was a controversy over plans for siting a new paved bike trail through the preserve. It appears that the resolution re-routes the planned Calhoun County Trailway to protect the preserve's more fragile features.

I'd hoped to visit Kimball Pines and Historic Bridge County Park since they are off the same stretch of M-96, but they both seemed to be closed for the season.

Ott Biological Preserve
Directions: The Preserve is just off the M-96/I-94-Business commercial strip east of Battle Creek. Arlington Avenue (across from a KFC) runs into the preserve's parking lot.