Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fall 2012 events

Fall in Kalamazoo can be beautiful.  Cooler weather, changing colors and harvest time.  It's generally warm enough for biking or kayaking or a walk in the woods.

Fall events around Kalamazoo

September 1-3 Lawrence Ox Roast Lawrence

September 9-11 Paw Paw Wine and Harvest Festival Paw Paw

September 15 Apple Fest Coldwater

September 21-23 Grand Haven Salmon Festival Grand Haven

September 29 9am Fall Birding Trip Kellogg Biological Station Augusta

October 5-7 Harvest Fest St. Joseph

October 6-7 Scotts Old Tyme Harvest Festival Scotts Mill County Park Scotts

October 7 Fall Color Cruise [pdf] Kalamazoo River Valley Trail Kalamazoo

October 13-14 Cranefest XVIII Bellevue

October 13-14 Fennville Goose Festival Fennville

October 21-22 Arts and Eats Tour  Hastings, Middleville, Hickory Corners, and surrounding areas

Also consider:

All Things Autumn from West Michigan Tourist Association

September Events from Pure Michigan and October Events and November Events

Fall recommendations from 52 Michigan Weekends

a Fall Color Tour or an Apple Tour

Fresh apple cider from VerHages Cider Mill.

West Michigan Tourist Association has a list of Harvest Time Festivals, a Weekly Color Report, and more Color Tours

Fall walks and rides on the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail

Event listings from Discover Kalamazoo

Gazelle Sports' calendar of West Michigan Races and Running Workshops

League of Michigan Bicyclist's Michigan Ride Calendar

West Michigan Coastal Kayaker's Association Event Calendar

Outdoor Athlete has lists for Michigan running, biking and triathlon events.

The Department of Natural Resources has calendars of events for State Parks and Recreation Areas: September, October, November

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Duck Lake State Park

Duck Lake State Park is about 2 hours from Kalamazoo, on Lake Michigan north of Muskegon.  The park protects about half of Duck Lake's shoreline and the woods beyond.  Most of the rest of the lake is developed with private homes although Fruitland Township maintains two small parks on Duck Lake.  At around 300 acres, the lake is relatively small; I was able to paddle the circumference in about an hour at a very leisurely pace.

The park offers a canoe and kayak launch, down a short woodchip trail from the main parking, or a concrete boat ramp with its own parking lot.  A separate parking area serves a picnic shelter and a small beach on Duck Lake.  The park doesn't have a campground. 

A low spillover dam separates Duck Lake from its outlet into Lake Michigan.  It's easy enough to lift a kayak over the dam and continue paddling.  The stream gets very shallow as it crosses the beach and it's easier to get out and wade.
The beach on Lake Michigan was the most popular attraction in the park when I visited.  A boardwalk leads from the main parking lot under the Scenic Drive bridge and over the dunes to the beach.

Duck Lake State Park
Fruitland, MI 49461
(address is approximate)

Recreation passport (or daily fee) required.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Musketawa Trail

The Musketawa Trail runs 25 miles from the outskirts of Muskegon to Marne, just west of Grand Rapids.  It's a little over an hour's drive from Kalamazoo.  Its surface is asphalt smooth enough to Rollerblade, with the occasional wooden bridge. 

I biked the western section from Muskegon to Ravenna (about 12 miles each way) earlier this week.  Like many rail trails, the Musketawa was fairly straight and level.  Most of the ride was through open farmland.  At the Ravenna trailhead, a railroad water tower and other RR artifacts celebrated the trail's heritage.  Just east of Ravenna, the high trestle bridge, over Crockery Creek, was the most scenic part of my ride.

Muskegon trailhead (approximate address)
Muskegon, MI 49444
(US-31 take exit 112 to Sherman Rd (County Rd B72).  Go east on Sherman for 1 mile following the curve south to Broadway.  Turn left on Broadway at the light.  Continue east on Broadway for one mile.  Trail parking is on the left.)

Ravenna trailhead (approximate address)
Ravenna, MI 49451
(The trailhead is in the southwest corner of the village

Sunday, August 19, 2012

West Lake

West Lake, in Portage just south of Kalamazoo, doesn't have a public boat launch, but kayaks and canoes can put in at the channel at Lakeview Park and enter West Lake through a tunnel under Oakland Drive.  The shores of West Lake are mostly developed, with only a small natural section of shoreline protected by the West Lake Nature Preserve.  That area does have some interesting bog life, including pitcher plants.  The rest of the lake is mostly homes with docks, most with both a pontoon boat and a speedboat.  West Lake can be a great spot for sunsets.

West Lake: 335 acres

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sugarloaf Lake

Sugarloaf Lake in Portage, just south of Kalamazoo, is a reasonably large lake for paddling and has a substantial amount of undeveloped shoreline (protected as part of the Gourdneck State Game Area).  The southwest shore does have several houses.  A public boat launch, off Shaver Road, provides access and parking.

A winding channel connects to Little Sugarloaf Lake.  Little Sugarloaf appears more developed, with homes and docks along one shore and US-131 visible along the other shore.

Sugarloaf Lake
10764 Shaver Rd.
Portage, MI
(address is approximate)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hall Lake

Hall Lake in Yankee Springs State Recreation Area, about a 45 minute drive north of Kalamazoo, offers opportunities for hiking and paddling.  We walked the Hall Lake Trail on a hot summer day and enjoyed the cool shade of the woods.  The trail started at the intersection of Gun Lake Road and the dirt road for the Long Lake Outdoor Center and then skirted the western edge of Hall Lake, sharing the route with the North Country Trail, and then loopsedback to the trailhead.  The entire loop took just under an hour to walk.  In winter, the Hall Lake trail is part of the Yankee Springs ski trail.

After our hike, we put our kayaks in at the Hall Lake boat launch (a few hundred yards east on Gun Lake Road).  The lake was small but mostly natural.  There were no structures along the lake, just the occasional car visible on the road.  Three small islands added interest.  A Great Blue Heron fished in the shallows while Turkey Vulture circled overhead.  The lake itself was too small to make the drive worthwhile but it combined nicely with some of the parks other attractions.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Compass Plant

Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum ) is an impressive prairie wildflower, with yellow flowers growing on stalks that can be over 8 feet high.  The flowers are similar to those of other Silphiums, like the Cup Plant, but the Compass Plants leaves are distinctive.  The two-foot long, deeply cut leaves create a striking profile for this plant even without its tall flowerstalk.  The leaves also give the Compass Plant its name since they tend to align on a north-south axis.  Research by botanists at Iowa State provides evidence that this leaf orientation uses sunlight and water most efficiently.  Deep roots (over 12 feet long [pdf]) allow the compass plant to thrive even during dry summers. 

Compass Plant is listed as a Threatened species in Michigan.  It is more widely distributed in the central and plains states.  The plants pictured here were blooming at the Kalamazoo Nature Center's restored prairie.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

MSU Children's Garden

 Michigan State has several gardens on its campus.  The most appealing may be the  4-H Children's Garden.  The garden is appropriately small-scaled and packed with colorful flowers and structures.
Features include a maze, a swinging "gate" that powers a fountain when kids swing on it, a pond with turtles and fish, a rustic treehouse, and lots of plants.  The gardens are themed-- Pioneer Garden, Kitchen Garden, International Garden, Cereal Bowl Garden-- and combine grains, vegetables, fruits, and ornamentals.  When my daughter was little, her favorite feature was the Sensitive Plant whose leaves folded when she touched them.
Admission is free.
Parking $3
(I recommend arriving by bike.) 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Lansing River Trail

When I walked on the Lansing River Trail last winter, I thought it would be a nice place for a bike ride.  Earlier this week, we drove about 75 miles from Kalamazoo to the state capital to try it.

We started at the big parking lot at the Bremke Fish Ladder in Lansing's Old Town neighborhood.  The trail passes through many different environments in a relatively short distance: riverside parks, downtown buildings, the museum district, some light industry, the Potter Park Zoo, and river bottom forests.  The ride to Michigan State wasn't long; it took us about a half hour at a leisurely pace.

MSU's campus is much easier to explore on a bike than by car (lots of construction and parking is inconvenient and expensive) or on foot (too sprawling with too many boring stretches).  We enjoyed visiting the MSU gardens and ate ice cream at the Dairy Store.
The River trail does have another leg that heads south to Hawk Island Park and one that heads east to Moores Park but we didn't ride those on this trip.