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Saturday, February 3
An Introduction to Off-Trail Hiking

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At least 15 hikers showed up for a cross-country, off-trail hike on the New Buffalo Elementary School and Turtle Creek preserves. No snow for snowshoeing, but the hikers were able to traverse the frozen wetlands without getting their feet wet. Hike leader and HCH President Pat Fisher pointed out natural features and winter plants. The pileated woodpeckers have been busy pecking at the trees. Hot Chocolate and wafer cookies were delivered at the end of the hike. (Photo by Janet Hayes, HCH Communications Chairwoman and Director)

Clean Your Boots, Other Gear
To Prevent Spread of Invasives

Jared Harmon of SW X SW Corner Invasive Species Management Area writes: The New Year is a time where individuals make an effort to address their personal flaws or change their behavior to better themselves or the world around them. Many will attempt to make these changes but unfortunately most will falter and slip back into their former habits after a short time period.  One change I encourage everyone to make this year is to be mindful of spreading invasive species into the natural areas they visit by decontaminating their gear and equipment when entering and leaving natural areas. When we think of the principle of “Leave No Trace” we often think that applies only to human recreational impact to the environment but we should also include the introduction of invasive species from human activity. Decontamination not only applies to hikers but includes cleaning off tires, gear, equipment, clothing, pets, and anything that comes into contact with soil that could contain seeds and pathogens. An easy way to decontaminate boots is to keep a hoof brush/pick or a simple boot brush in a hiking pack to use before and after a hike. The recent detection last summer of Japanese Stiltgrass on a trail in Niles demonstrates how important it is to decontaminate in order to protect our local ecosystems. The only other introduction of Japanese Stiltgrass in Michigan was in Ann Arbor with the closest populations being found in parts of Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana.

New Year resolutions can be difficult to keep but decontamination takes only a couple minutes and is an important measure to protect the natural world that we enjoy so much. Sadly many gyms will soon be empty as resolutions are broken but fortunately keeping our gear and clothing clean is easy and requires little effort on our part.

For more information, contact Harmon at jared.harmon@macd.org.

January 6, 2018–Cross-Country Skiing
At Love Creek County Park

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The Hikers’ first activity of the year was a cross-country ski trip to Love Creek County Park. Turnout was good, considering the weather–some experienced skiers, some first-timers. The trails were well-groomed with plenty of snow, though there was no wind and no falling snow while the group was there.

Love Creek  County Park a ‘Huge Destination’
For Cross-Country Skiiers

About our January 6 cross-country ski trip to Love Creek Park (see Events page), Mrs. Daniels of Porter Country, IN writes, “You say “this place is in the middle of nowhere” but Love Creek County Park is a HUGE destination for us X-C skiers. Anyone who X-C skis knows that Love Creek is the only x-c ski facility, within a huge area, that grooms their trails for classic style and skating technique.  We drive for hours in the winter to get to Love Creek. No place in NW Indiana grooms nor other trails in Berrien County nor SE Chicagoland.  The next x-c area that grooms is Madeline Bertrand Park in Niles and the adjoining park directly south on the Indiana state line and in Indiana–St. Patrick’s Park. A further drive for many of us. Love Creek rents X-C ski equipment, fat tire bicycles and snowshoes.  We x-c skiers who wait in anticipation for Love Creek to open their winter trails have our own equipment. Enjoy the trails of Love Creek County Park; you should have plenty of snow.”

New Cross Country Ski Trails in New Buffalo

Ski Trails Xmas Day

New Buffalo has some brand new cross-country ski trails on several blocks of undeveloped city right-of-ways, a portion of the New Buffalo Area Schools’ Nature Study Trails and Turtle Creek Preserve. Bring your own skis and be patient: this is a voluntary effort by local residents and friends. You can access these trails from the corners of Washington and Chicago or Eagle and Clay. Limited parking is available at New Buffalo’s Turtle Pond Nature Preserve. The trails are also accessible from the Elementary School, where more parking is available. The photo above was taken after our Christmas Eve snowfall. Imagine how nice they are with all the snow we’ve had since!

Follow this link for maps and driving directions. (Scroll down for second map.)

December 13, Night Hike at the
New Buffalo Area Schools Nature Trails

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Despite chilly winds, 14 hikers showed up for our first night hike. HCH President Pat Fisher led the group past a network of ravines created when the prehistoric Lake Baroda broke through its banks and created rivers and streams headed ultimately for Lake Michigan. Fisher also spoke about ecological succession, how grasslands gave way to oak/hickory forests and, eventually, beech/maple climax forests. He also noted that many tree species native to climates further north could be found in Southwest Michigan. Cloudy skies prevented a look at the Geminid meteor shower, but after the hike, participants paused for a cup of hot chocolate and a talk by VP Stacey LaRocco on where to look for the meteors in coming days. When and if the clouds dissipate over the next day or two, look to the northeast sky, near the constellation Orion.

In case you didn’t finish the grip on your hiking stick at the library last weekend
(or if 
you’d like to try on your own), check out this video.


November 19, The Great Marsh Trail

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The hikers showed up for this trek to the Great Marsh in Beverly Shores, Indiana, but the birds…not so much. Hike leader Stacey LaRocco, HCH VP and Chikaming Open Lands Project Coordinator, explained how migratory birds use the Lake Michigan shoreline to help navigate on their way south, and how this helps funnel them into the marshes of Southwest Michigan and Northwest Indiana. After a cold front comes through, birds hitchhike on northerly winds, and this can lead to a large concentration of them on the lake’s southern shore.  LaRocco also gave a brief history of the marsh. Early in the 20th century a real estate developer drained the marsh with a view to building high-end houses near the lake. Environmentalists blocked development, but only recently were the drainage channels blocked and the marsh restored.

Exotic Fungus Threatens Local Oak Trees

Oak wilt
Oak wilt fungal spore mat courtesy of MSU Extension

Oak wilt is an exotic fungal disease that impacts both red and white oaks but is particularly deadly to the red oak family. Oak wilt kills trees by clogging sapwood vessels by inhibiting the transport of water and can kill red oaks as quickly as one to two months. Oak wilt has two methods of spreading and this is done by grafting through tree roots or transportation by beetles visiting wound sites on infected trees. The DNR recommends to not prune or damage oak trees from April through July when the beetles are most active. However, these beetles are known to be active when temperatures are above 40 degrees and will visit oaks as quickly as a few seconds after being damaged. If trees are to be pruned it is recommended to immediately cover the wound with latex paint or wound dressing. Symptoms of oak wilt include premature leaf drop in the summer, cracks in bark, and the presence of fungal pads. There are a number of pests and diseases that resemble oak wilt and it is recommended to consult a professional for identification and diagnoses. The best way to prevent this disease from further impacting our forests and landscapes is continual education of the public and proper tree management. For more information about oak wilt please contact me at jared.harmon@macd.org or DNR-FRD-Forest-Health@michigan.gov or by phone at (517) 284-5895.

Additional Resources:
Oak Wilt in Michigan’s Forest Resource
How To Identify, Prevent, and Control Oak Wilt

October 21, Galien River County Park

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Thirty-five hikers. some from as far away as Utah, took advantage of a beautiful fall Saturday to walk the trails and boardwalks, and of course visit the canopy overlook, of the Galien River County Park in New Buffalo Township. Hike leader Kip Miller, naturalist with Berrien County Parks, pointed out ash trees that had fallen to the emerald ash borer and muskrat lodges built of cattails in park’s marsh. He also explained how the marsh waters rise and fall with the water levels of Lake Michigan.

Saturday’s hike attracted our youngest hiker yet, Sean Nicka of Bridgman, pictured above with parents Emily and John.

October 15, Chikaming Park and Preserve

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A small but hardy group of hikers braved a drizzly, windy day for a look at the flooded Galien River, swollen by heavy rains the day before. They discussed some future stewardship projects (more on this later) and took in the changing leaves at this outstanding park and preserve.

What gives fall leaves their color? Turns out that despite all the hues we see on trees during this season, only three pigments color leaves: chlorophyll, carotenoid and anthocyan. Chlorophyll, of course, is the green chemical in plants that enables the conversion of sunlight and carbon dioxide into the energy that supports plant growth, stored as carbohydrates. An important byproduct of the process is most of the oxygen we breathe.

Carotenoids are yellow and orange pigments, the same chemicals that color corn, carrots and bananas. Carotinoids are always present in leaves, but are masked by chlorophyll during the growing season. When trees stop producing chlorophyll in the fall, the carotenoids show through, and leaves turn yellow, orange and brown.

Anthocyan is present in only some species, and is produced as a form of protection. It allows the plant to recover nutrients in the leaves before they fall off, and helps prepare the tree for the next growing season. Anthocyan is responsible for the bright shades of red, purple and crimson in maples, sassafras and sumac.

September 30, Grand Mere

9-29-2017 HC Hikers Grand Mere (11)

Two dozen hikers hit the trails of Grand Mere State Park last Saturday, and got beautiful, early-fall weather for exploring this little-visited collection of landscapes found nowhere else in the world. Grand Mere contains three ancient lakes formed by glaciers 10,000 years ago. Originally, there were five, but two have filled in over the centuries and the remaining lakes will, too, eventually. The park includes a mile of Lake Michigan shoreline, backed by high dunes, and spectacular views. Its wetlands and dunes are significant for migrating waterfowl and songbirds. Grand Mere was made a National Natural Landmark in 1976. (Photo by member Phil Eichas)

September 17, Cherry Beach

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Janet Schrader, Harbor Country Hikers and Chikaming Parks Board Member, led hikers in a beach trash cleanup at Cherry Beach in Harbert. The stewardship project was part of a Great-Lakes-wide cleanup day sponsored by the Great Lakes Adopt-a-Beach program. After filling buckets with bottles, a few stranded beach toys and lots and lots of styrofoam, the hikers were treated to a typically spectacular Lake Michigan sunset.

September 16, Hoadley Trail/Watkins Park

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Jared Harmon, Berrien Conservation District Invasive Species Specialist, led hikers through this Three Oaks trail, pointing out invasive plant and insect species along the way. The biggest threat invasive plant species like phragmites (a reed) and Japanese knotweed pose is that they crowd out native species that provide food and shelter for insects, small animals and birds. Insect invaders like the emerald ash borer already nearly have destroyed the native ash population, and the Asian longhorn beetle threatens maple trees, Harmon said. Oak wilt, an invasive fungus, could decimate the area’s oak trees.

Robinson Woods Preserve

Chikaming Open Lands Executive Director Ryan Postema walked about 20 hikers through the process of trail construction. Postema said he tries to keep trails away from areas likely to get wet or muddy, and makes sure they lead hikers past interesting plant and geological features. His trails avoid endangered species and, when obstacles like streams get in the way, he looks for simple ways around or over them. The most important trail-making tools: pruning shears, loppers and rakes. Trail blazing, he told the group, refers to marking new trails, not constructing them.

August 19, Warren Woods

Warren Woods is the last remaining climax beech maple forest in Michigan. Common when early European settlers arrived in the area, this type of forest, now rare, is the final stage in an ecological succession that might start with weeds, progress to conifers, then oak hickory and finally beech maple–all over a period of centuries.

The Harbor Country Hikers walked part of the 3-1/2 miles of trail in the 311-acre forest, and discussed plant and insect pests, deforestation, wetland draining and extinction of wildlife in Southwest Michigan. The conversation ended on a hopeful note, with an update on the successful reintroduction of wildlife and conservation practices that have kept it in our area.

August 12, Jens Jensen Preserve & Pepperidge Dunes Nature Sanctuary

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Hikers got a beautiful Saturday afternoon for walking the trails at Jens Jensen Preserve (administered by Chikaming Open Lands) and the adjoining Pepperidge Dunes Nature Sanctuary (a property of the Michigan Nature Association). These two properties, connected by common trails, now densely forested, once lay at the bottom of Lake Chicago, a precursor of Lake Michigan.

Lake Chicago, formed by a retreating glacier 11,000 to 13,000 years ago, once stretched 10 to 15 miles inland from the present-day Lake Michigan shore in Michigan, covered all of Northwest Indiana and stretched as far west as La Grange, Illinois. 

Before the hike got underway, Dave Johnson, news editor of Harbor Country News, gave a brief talk on digital photography for nature photographers.

August 5, Three Oaks Conservation Area

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Two dozen hikers followed trails through a prairie and woodlands at the Three Oaks Conservation Area last Saturday. The Conservation Area is part of an ancient lakebed. The lake, Lake Baroda, eventually drained into Lake Michigan, substantially raising its water level and creating several rivers in the process, including the Galien. 

Note that kids and teens are always welcome and encouraged to join HCH’s hikes, as long as they’re accompanied by an adult. So, bring the kids or grandkids for a few hours in nature.

July 29, Grand Beach Marsh

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Chikaming Open Lands’ Grand Beach Marsh Preserve was a hit. More than 30 people walked the trail, and COL’s Casey Strueker and Stacey LaRocco helped set the scene with a talk about rare coastal plain marshes and the environments they create. Along the way, hikers sampled wintergreen leaves and wild blueberries, spotted ghostly Indian pipe and watched baby toads hop off the trail. Thanks to member Ellen Frankle for letting visitors park on her property near the Marsh.