For some reason, whenever I thought of paddling the Kalamazoo River, I would drive east to Fort Custer and float the stretch from that recreation area to 35th Street. I never really considered canoeing from Kalamazoo. The river's industrial heritage, particularly its paper mills near Kalamazoo, may have contributed to my neglect, although most of the factories have closed and the sites cleaned.
This afternoon, we paddled a section of the river just north of the city limits, starting in Parchment (near the Mosel Avenue bridge) and ending about 5 miles downstream just past the D Avenue bridge. The trip took us about an hour and a half.
The riverbanks were wooded for most of the trip, with only a few buildings and two railroad bridges near the start. Otherwise it was very natural. The Kalamazoo River Valley Trail parallels the river for this section and the Kalamazoo Nature Center protects a good portion of the west bank. We passed turtles sunning on logs, muskrats and geese, and a big Blue Heron. The highlight was a Bald Eagle that flew right over us.
There's plenty of free parking along the river on Commerce Lane in Parchment. The boat launch at D Avenue is privately owned and welcomes canoes and kayaks and charges a small fee.
Nearly two years after the 2010 oil spill, most of Kalamazoo River re-opened. Some submerged oil remains in the river and clean-up efforts continue, but public health officials have declared the river safe for recreational uses. Both the oil company and the clean-up efforts have been subject to substantial criticism.
The stretch of the Kalamazoo River between Fort Custer Recreational Area and 35th Street (near Morrow Pond) had been one of my favorite local places to paddle.
Eagle Lake in Fort Custer Recreation Area is about a 20 minute drive east of Kalamazoo. Motor boats are restricted on the lake, which makes it a good destination for canoes and kayaks since there are no jetskis or speedboats flying past. The swimming beach is the most popular feature at Eagle Lake. It has a concession stand, restrooms, and a big picnic area. A disc golf course is laid out along the shore. There's a boat launch with parking, beyond the beach area.
The lake itself is reasonably sized and features an island near the far shore, which makes a good paddling destination. The lake is an impoundment and in places you can tree stumps underwater. This afternoon, fish were jumping out of the water, although I didn't notice any of the many anglers catch one. The Kingfishers and gulls seemed to have more luck.
Eagle Lake does have eagles, although we didn't see any this trip.
Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis) grows throughout the northeastern US and Canada and the Appalachians. I think of it as a swamp tree but apparently it grows best in well-drained loam. It is a common tree in Michigan wetlands since it can tolerate wet soil much better than most competing trees.
Yellow Birch is a food source for a number of animals, including deer, moose, snowshoe hare, ruffed grouse, and red squirrels. A broken twig has a pleasant sweet smell, like root beer. Some people drink tea from the twigs and bark. According to the USDA, its wood is used for furniture, cabinetry, and veneer or it can be processed for charcoal or wood alcohol [pdf].
While it doesn't have the striking white bark of the Paper Birch, the Yellow Birch's silver bark is distinctive with peels of paper-thin strips.
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) is, perhaps, our best-known prairie flower. Native to North America, its bright yellow flowers bloom early in the summer and can continue throughout the season.
A related species of Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia fulgida, is also native to our area (and much of the eastern US). It became a popular garden flower through an interesting path. Rather than being directly adopted from the wild, the most popular horticultural variety "Goldsturm" crossed the Atlantic twice. A German horticulturalist found an attractive variant in a Czech garden and developed it for commercial purposes in Germany. From Europe, it returned to US gardens.
I'm not absolutely sure which Black-eyed Susan is in the photo.
The Chipman Preserve is one of the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy's largest preserves. It was donated to the SWMLC by the Chipman family, founders of Landscape Forms, in 2002. I worked with some of my students on a service-learning project at the preserve years ago but I hadn't visited since. Earlier this week, my daughter and I took an enjoyable walk on the preserve's trails.
The preserve has about four miles of trails through oak woods and grasslands. The conservancy is working to establish prairie and savannah plants in the open areas and to restore wildflowers in the forest. The Butterfly Milkweed were in full flower on our visit, along with Bergamot and Black-eyed Susan.
The Chipman Preserve is located a few miles east of Kalamazoo on E. Main Street between 30th and 33rd, fairly close to the McLinden Nature Trails.
I teach economics at Kalamazoo College. My wife is also an economist. We were on sabbatical in Europe for the 2014-15 academic year. (Salamanca, Spain, followed by Oxford, UK.) We were in Uruguay for the 2006-7 academic year.