June 5 is National Trails Day – Top 6 Areas in Michigan to Check out #getoutside

June 5 is National Trails Day – Top 6 Areas in Michigan to Check out #getoutside

Top 6 areas that are great for a family-friendly hike this spring/summer

“We at The Nature Conservancy (TNC) firmly believe in the mantra #getoutside! We maintain a network of 30 plus nature preserve around the state. Let’s look at some in regions across MI!”

Southeast Michigan

Here, you can visit the headwaters of Michigan’s longest river, the Grand, at TNC’s Grand River Fen Preserve. Native butterflies occur in very high abundance at Grand River Fen. This site has long been known by lepidopterists for its diversity of these beautiful insects. Species like the Baltimore Checkerspot may follow you around, seeking the salt in your sweat.

(ALL RIGHTS GRANTED TNC, CREDIT MANDATORY) Grand River Fen Preserve. © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

Love spring flowers? Then the Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow is your choice in April and May. Sharon Hollow is a dynamic preserve, featuring more than 260 species of wildflowers and other native plants.

From the symphony of toads and frogs during spring, to the rain of yellow beech leaves in the fall, visitors will find year-round spectacles to enjoy. In the wet spring months, visitors can see vernal pools, which are temporary pools of water that provide habitat for insects, snakes and amphibians.

Nan Weston Preserve at Sharon Hollow, trillium. Photo credit TNC.

Head to the Monroe area to visit the Erie Marsh Preserve. No matter the time of year, Erie Marsh Preserve is a birding hotspot. As you walk along the pathways dividing the different wetland areas, you are likely to see a number of ducks, shorebirds, songbirds, or a great egret, great blue heron or black-crowned night heron.

Every spring and fall, Erie Marsh serves as important nesting and stopover habitat for thousands of migratory birds to rest and feed. In the fall, bald eagles commonly breed here. At more than 2,200 acres, the preserve also harbors some of Michigan’s few remaining colonies of American lotus and swamp rose-mallow, both listed as state-threatened, as well as the threatened eastern fox snake.

( ALL RIGHTS GRANTED TNC, CREDIT MANDATORY) Lotus flowers at Erie Marsh Preserve. Photo credit: © Jason Whalen

Southwest Michigan

On the opposite side of the state lies the Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Preserve, a hiker’s joy at about 1,500 acres. As you explore more than five miles of trails, you are likely to encounter reptiles and amphibians around the coastal plain marshes and small ponds on the preserve.

Keep an eye out for mammals such as red fox and coyote. While hiking through this preserve, you may see one of the 100 bird species known to nest in the shrubs and trees here throughout the year, with spring and fall migrations bringing songbirds, warblers and waterfowl to the preserve.

(ALL RIGHTS) Coastal plain marsh with bluejoint reedgrass at Ross Preserve in Michigan, United States, North America. Photo credit: © Harold E. Malde

Northwest Lower Peninsula 

Near Onekema, visit the Portage Point Woods Preserve. The shelter of back-dune forests provides habitat for spring wildflowers such as trillium, hepatica, jack-in-the-pulpit, spring beauty, dwarf ginseng, and bloodroot.

As you hike the looped trail, watch and listen for a variety of animal species, from songbirds and raptors to reptiles and amphibians. Be on the lookout for pileated woodpeckers, black-capped chickadees, rose-breasted grosbeaks, barred owls, red-shouldered hawks, eastern box turtles, American toads, and eastern newts.

Predators like coyotes and red foxes also hunt here for small mammals seeking shelter from the often harsh coastal environment nearby. There are also several nature preserves owned by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy in this region; totally worth visiting!                                 Photo Credit:   Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

Northeast Lower Peninsula

In this neck of the woods, the Conservancy partners with strong local organizations to preserve natural spaces. For example, visit the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge and walk the paths of the old Germania Golf Course, that TNC helped protect several years ago.

Eastern Upper Peninsula 

Enjoy unique and rare geology at the John Arthur Woolam Preserve, near Cedarville. The 185-acre John Arthur Woollam Preserve consists of 4,300 feet of stunning rocky shoreline with huge boulders and coastal wetlands, and a coniferous forest grading into northern hardwoods.

The preserve offers a significant shoreline for migratory and breeding birds and a habitat for plant species such as Houghton’s goldenrod. Warm waters near the shore yield masses of flying insects, providing a tasty feast for migrating birds stopping through the preserve.                                         Photo Credit:  Chris Cantway/TNC

Make it a day trip and also explore the Carl A. Gerstacker Preserve at Dudley Bay! Enjoy five miles of beautiful shoreline across four bays on Lake Huron, two small islands, Big and Little Trout Lakes, and parts of two creeks. Visitors might also see a variety of animals including the loon, pileated woodpecker, osprey, wolf and several species of neotropical migratory songbirds such as the American redstart and magnolia warbler.

Carl A. Gerstacker Nature Preserve at Dudley Bay Photo Credit:  Ron Leonetti

Western Upper Peninsula 

The Echo Lake Nature Preserve near Marquette is home to dramatic cliff-top views and a beautiful trail around Echo Lake itself. Echo Lake offers activities year-round, from snow-shoeing in the winter to hiking and canoeing in the summer. Early May and late July through October are the best times to visit this preserve to take advantage of Upper Michigan’s beauty while avoiding biting insects.

Echo Lake Nature Preserve near Marquette, Michigan. Photo Credit:  Dick Huey

A selection of the preserves mentioned here also have guided audio tours. These tours include stories, fun facts, historical notes and natural sounds to deepen your connection to place. Access the tour from the comfort of your home, or onsite as you hike! Visit nature.org/miexplore to get started!

*Article courtesy of The Nature Conservancy

Cynthia Tait

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