Blog

Saturday, October 13
Amazing Fall Migrations
Warren Dunes State Park

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A dozen-and-a-half hikers turned out on a glorious Saturday morning to spot birds along a Warren Dunes trail. Lisa Doyle-Schaller (that’s her in the red coat) gave a brief talk on fall bird migrations and called out birds–visually or by their calls–along the way. Areas like Warren Dunes provide refuge for migrating birds as they head south.

Saturday, September 29
Fall Ravine View Hiking
Love Creek County Park

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Kip Miller, chief naturalist for Berrien County Parks and property manager at Love Creek Park (that’s him in the black shirt at the center of the photo), led 27 hikers through about 2-3/4 miles of Love Creek’s six miles of hiking trails. Along the way, hikers got spectacular views of beech-maple climax forests, saw some late-blooming wildflowers, peered into deep ravines from atop trails that followed them, and learned a little about Love Creek Park. Miller noted that the park offers off-road bicycling and cross-country skiing in season, as well as hiking. 

Saturday, September 16
Shifting Sands: The Film and the Hike
(New Buffalo Township Library and Cowles Bog)

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In this two-part event, the Hikers watched an excellent film called Shifting Sands, about efforts to preserve Northern Indiana dunelands from industrial encroachment–efforts that eventually led to state and national parks. The film did an fine job of presenting both sides of the story, and of tying together the stories of many small groups that, together, saved this diverse region. Rumor is the New Buffalo Township Library is getting a copy. Following the film, the Hikers walked the 3-1/2 mile trail at Cowles Bog, one of the areas mentioned, and saw an egret, sand cranes, lots of monarchs and some unfamiliar plants and flowers.

New Buffalo Resident Nearing
End of Appalachian Trail Hike

New Buffalo resident Fred Jolly reported on August 22 that he had covered 1700 miles of the Appalacian Trail, and had another 490-odd miles left in New Hampshire and Maine to complete the 2190-mile trek. Jolly, 62, will be one of fewer than 500 people over age 60 to have hiked the length of the trail when he completes it. He set out in May from Georgia, partly with a goal to raise money for the National Parks. See Jolly’s website, http://www.athike.jollyoutther.com, to learn how to contribute. We hope to persuade Jolly to talk to the hikers about his experiences when he returns.

Saturday, August 25
Ecosystems and Biodiversity
Chikaming Township Park and Preserve

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More than two dozen hikers turned out for a Saturday morning hike through the Chikaming Township Park and Preserve. Before the hikers set out, HCH VP Stacey LaRocco spoke about how wetlands improve water quality. Wetlands filter out nitrogen, phosphorus and pesticides from agricultural runoff. They slow the flow of water and prevent downstream erosion and flooding. They also provide habitats for birds and mammals. Afterward, hikers had a look at some of the many ecosystems the park and preserve contains–a planted bluestem tallgrass prairie, a pond, wetlands, the Galien River floodplain and more.

Saturday, August 4
New Buffalo Elementary School Trails

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On a hike co-sponsored by the New Buffalo Township Library,  hikers learned a little about how trees survive Michigan winters–and how trees may communicate and what they say to one another.

Hike leader and HCH President Pat Fisher explained that different trees have developed different strategies to deal with cold weather. Some develop bulb-like underground structures that store nutrients for the winter. Others create sugars that dissolve in water carried by the tree’s vascular system. These act as a sort of antifreeze that lower the water’s freezing point.

Some fairly new research suggests trees can communicate with one another. Trees are connected by microscopic networks of mycorrhizal fungi that attach to their roots. These symbiotic networks, the researchers say, allow the trees to share water and nutrients and send each other distress signals about disease, insect attacks and drought. Some trees also release pheramones when they’re attacked by insects or even leaf-eating animals. The pheramones inform other trees of the attack and, in some cases, cause them to release chemicals that make their leaves bitter and unappetizing to predators.

Saturday, July 14
Robinson Woods Preserve

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The Hikers got a preview of a new trail marking system developed by HCH President Pat Fisher. The system is being tested at Chikaming Open Lands’ Robinson Woods Preserve, and the plan is to roll it out into other COL properties, as well as township and county parks. The goal, according to Fisher, is to have common, easy-to-understand signage throughout Harbor Country parks and preserves. 

Each marker carries a unique location number that will eventually help emergency services locate lost or injured hikers. It also gives directions to the next marker, identifies the trail and carries other information when appropriate. Separate trailhead signs show a trail map, list rules and identify the type of trail–hiking, cross-county skiing, biking and so on. 

Saturday, July 7
Spicer Lake Nature Preserve

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The Hikers journeyed to Spicer Lake Nature Preserve in New Carlisle, Ind., home to two kettle lakes, swamps, and numerous plants and animals. Michaele Klingerman, a naturalist with the St. Joseph County (Indiana) Parks, explained that kettle lakes formed when large chunks of ice fell off retreating glaciers during the last Ice Age, and left a water-filled dent in the ground. The three-dozen Hikers who made the trip also saw evidence of beavers and several different bird species–Spicer Lake is known as good birding destination. Klingerman told the story of how an Audubon Society member raised money to buy the original 70 acres of preserve. Some came in nickels and dimes raised by children. Today, additional land purchases have expanded the preserve to 300 acres.

Saturday, June 16
Kesling Nature Preserve

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About 20 hikers explored the unusual geology and thick forest of the Kesling Nature Preserve last Saturday. Kesling is regarded as a prime bird-watching location.

 

 

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Friday, May 25
Mt. Baldy Sunset Hike

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The Hikers–along with scores of others–scaled Mt. Baldy for a nice view of the sunset the Friday before the Labor Day weekend. Along the way, a Park Service Ranger, explained some of the geology behind the dune’s formation. Mt. Baldy, he said, is actually two dunes–an ancient dune that goes back 8,000 years and a newer dune–less than a thousand years old–that sits on top of it. Mt. Baldy is a “living dune;” that is, it continues to move southward. Plants, especially marram grass, bind the dune together with their roots. Buried trees, according to the ranger, were responsible for creating the hole that swallowed and nearly killed an Illinois boy in 2013. The tree trunks decomposed, leaving a hard crust around their circumference that keeps the hole from filling in with sand. Park officials are still looking for other holes, and parts of Mt. Baldy are still off-limits. From the top of the dune, the ranger pointed out the Valparaiso Moraine to the south, a ridge that marks the edge of an Ice Age glacier. (Photos by Andrea Brown)

 

Thursday, May 24
Turtle Pond with the BASE kids

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Turtle Pond, a small patch of preserve connected by trails to the New Buffalo Elementary School and Turtle Creek Preserve trails, was the destination for the school’s after-hours hiking program, sponsored by HCH. The trails were wet and muddy, and the hikers got a good look at animal tracks along the way. The pond itself was home to noisy frogs, but the turtles kept well-hidden–and quiet. That’s BASE director Andrea Brown in the sun glasses and HCH President Pat Fisher lurking in the background.

Thursday, April 26
New Buffalo Elementary School

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Christian Siewert, certified arborist and founder of C&A Arborists (in the yellow teeshirt), donated a tulip tree to the New Buffalo Elementary School, and he and the after-school BASE kids–along with local boy and girl scouts–helped plant it on the school grounds for Arbor Day. The children decided the tree needed a name, and called it Bob. After the planting, Siewert led the group on a walk through the trails behind the school and pointed out different tree species and facts about them. (Photo by Janet Hayes, HCH Communications Chairwoman and Director)

Saturday, April 21
Spring Wildflower Hike, Warren Woods

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Two dozen hikers made it to our Wildflowers Hike April 21. Member and botanist Arch Hopkins led the group through Warren Woods, Michigan’s last surviving beech-maple climax forest. At one time, Hopkins said, beech-maple forests extended all the way from the East Coast to the Great Lakes. But the climax forests thrive on exactly the same sort of soil that makes ideal farmland, and most were cleared for agriculture. Wildflowers in the forests are around only briefly, according to Hopkins. Once the overhead canopy fills in, there isn’t enough sunlight for them to bloom. Along the way, hikers discovered cut-leaved tootwart, wild leek, Dutchman’s britches, bloodroot, round-lobed hepatica and trout lily. Hopkins suggested hikers return in about two weeks—around May 5—when additional spring wildflowers will be in bloom.

Harbor Country Hikers Partners
With New Buffalo Elementary School
On ‘Connecting with Nature’ Program

Harbor Country Hikers and the New Buffalo Elementary School BASE program have joined forces to get students onto local trails. We will be presenting the program from a naturalist’s perspective during the third trimester at BASE. The nature hikes will take place on Thursdays from 4:45 to 5:45pm for 10 weeks, starting March 12. Since this time period spans the spring months and American National Wetlands Month (May), we will concentrate on observing the re-leafing of trees, awakening of the wildflowers and hibernators, and exploring the surrounding wetlands. This program will provide casual exposure to nature and promote trail safety and etiquette.

New Buffalo Resident Plans to Hike
Entire 2200-Mile Appalachian Trail

Fred Jolly, who recently moved to New Buffalo, is planning to spend this summer hiking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine. The 62-year-old former Chicagoan recently visited all 59 national parks during a 2-1/2-year road trip. Though no stranger to hiking–among others, Jolly has been on several HCH hikes–he admits to very little experience camping out on trails. He points out that the average age of those who walk the entire 2200-mile length of the Appalachian Trail is 29, and that fewer than 500 individuals 60 or older have completed the trail in its 81-year history. Jolly is hiking the trail in part to raise funds for the National Park Foundation, and is asking HCH members and others for their support. Donors can find out more at crowdrise.com/freds-athike or on his Facebook page, Fred R Jolly. If you’re interested in following Jolly’s progress, you can do so at his Facebook page, on his website, athike.jollyoutthere.com, or on Instagram @jollyoutthere. Jolly has agreed to give a talk to the Hikers about his experiences when he returns in the fall.

Saturday, March 3
In Like a Lion: Ice Formations of Lake Michigan

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This evening’s hike had some good news and some bad news. The bad news: a streak of unusually warm weather has melted most of the ice on the lakeshore. A collection of photos, most taken locally by President Pat Fisher, showed the most common ice formations, the hazards some represent and the protection they provide for our beaches. The good news: another terrific sunset with views of Chicago and the sun reflecting off the glass in the Willis Tower. (Photo by Pat Fisher)

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

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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

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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, was common. The climax beech maple forest 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, and 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.