Harbor Country Hikers encourages solo hiking during this time of social distancing–both for the exercise and for the peace that walking in nature brings. To reproduce our group hike experience, in a small way, Hikers President and frequent hike leader Pat Fisher has put together guides for some of the popular preserves and parks we hike. Print them out or keep them on your phone and learn as you hike. Return to this page from time to time for more virtual guides.
New Buffalo Area Schools Nature Study Trails
And Turtle Creek Preserve, May 8
So what and where are the Nature Study Trails? Let’s look back in time to the winter of 2012-2013 when I reconnected with nature. The woods down the street from my home, which happen to belong to The New Buffalo Area Schools, was an inaccessible 38-acre wetland. Connect that with the idle 20 acres of natural areas behind the NB Elementary School and the adjacent Turtle Creek Preserve, and you have a good-sized nature study area that is now accessible to the public.
A three-mile hike will take you along and through a wet acidic sandy flatwoods loaded with hummocks (pit & mounds) and vernal pools, streams and rivulets; a southern shrub-carr; remnants of an oak-hickory forest; a variety of southern hardwood forests; a southern hardwood swamp, and an in-progress prairie restoration. These features are the current residents of the ancient ravines, dunes and beaches of glacial Lake Chicago and the edges of the Inner Lake Border Moraine. An impressive array of biodiversity and natural history in a mere 75 acres.
I am the steward of these trails, including Turtle Creek Preserve. The job comes with many challenges and great joy. The most rewarding part has been sharing nature with K-12 students, after-school kids, the Mighty Acorn Program, cross country teams, and of course, parents and elders. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing.
During my year-round adventures though these natural areas I have witnessed or seen evidence of every type of mammal and many of the reptiles found in SW Michigan. Listening to the local crows, cranes and geese, woodpeckers, turkeys, songbirds and birds-of-prey is always a joy. Pretty much, my wildflower list only lacks those found along the shores of Lake Michigan.
Today’s flora list: Wild Geranium, Common Cattail, Phragmites, Turkey Tail, Wood Anemone, Tall Scouring Rush, Western Chorus Frog, Spring Peeper, Rue Anemone, Wild Lily-of-the-Valley, Canada Mayflower, Common Blue Violet, Mayapple, Ramps, Wild Leek, Smooth or Feathery False Solomon’s Seal, Lion’s Foot, White Lettuce, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Large Flowered Trillium, Swamp Buttercup, Downy Arrowwood, Ferns, Dwarf Ginseng, Yellow Trout Lily, Skunk Cabbage, Field Horsetail, Round-lobed, Prairie Trillium, Dwarf Ginseng, Bellwort, Squawroot, Common Cinquefoil.
What I enjoyed most about today’s hike was the bright and cheery sunshine, feeling the cool 40 degree wind on my face, and listening to the sounds of the forest with zero distractions. I did find one new wildflower species I don’t remember seeing in these woods before today and was making my way into a ravine when a loud thud happened not far from me. Must have been a very large tree falling into the yucky muck!
Great Marsh Trail, Indiana Dunes National Park, May 2
One of my favorite fall diversions on the way home from work is Beverly Drive, which cuts through the Great Marsh. The contrast of browning cattails and blue waters against a background of fall leaves is breathtaking. I do enjoy these fall drives, but a springtime hike was long overdue and did not disappoint.
A little digging into the area’s history tells us the Great Marsh was nearly destroyed in the name of progress. One of Chicago’s largest real-estate developers bought 3,600 acres in 1927 and plotted thousands of home sites in the Beverly Shores area with plans to build a resort community. Most of the marsh was drained and roads were cut through.
During the 1970’s a movement to purchase all the homes in Beverly Shores didn’t succeed but did lead to the purchase of many properties, including the wetland trails we hiked today. The National Park Service began restoring this area in 1998 and has made a major impact on the diversity of plants, birds and habitats.
Today’s flora & fauna list: Flowering Dogwood, Field Horsetail, Mayapple, Wild Geranium, Skunk Cabbage, Jewelweed, Common Cattail, Turkey Tail, Wood Anemone, Tall Scouring Rush, Toothwort, Canada Goose, Sand Hill Crane, Western Chorus Frog, Spring Peeper, Gray ratsnake, Red Winged Blackbird, and more…
What I enjoyed most about today’s hike was feeling the bright and cheery sunshine on my face, listening to the constant sounds of songbirds, frogs, sandhill cranes and Canada geese protecting their nests, seeing the green grasses and brightly colored wildflowers poking through last year’s brown mats, and watching swallows feeding on insects and a hawk carrying a meal back to its nest. All delights for the senses and soothing to the mind. My closing words of wisdom: I always find that I receive more than I seek on my hikes.
Warren Woods State Park, April 18
This hike started out as a “hurry up and capture the snow” photo hike. I’ll remind you, we had a snow storm in the middle of April this year. Beyond the beautiful contrast of snow on the ground mosses and trees, the wildflower presentations started out boring. The ramps were lying flat on the ground, all of the wild flowers had their petals tucked in. Even the skunk cabbage was wrapped up tight. But then came the WOW! As the rising temperature played havoc on the snow, the wildflowers started to display their natural beauty. Nature was proving once again she can bounce back from almost anything.
Besides its great wildflower displays, the most interesting thing about Warren Woods is that the area north of the Galien River is one of the few places in Michigan that wasn’t harvested for its timber. So you are walking among 200-year-old (and older) pre-settlement trees. You’ll find these old giants make quite an obstacle when they fall across the trail as a new path is beaten around one of them on almost every visit. Nature’s changes are consistent.
Today’s wildflower list: Spring Beauty, Yellow Trout Lily, Skunk Cabbage, Tall Scouring Rush, Ramps, Wild Leek, Toothwort, Oak Fern, Christmas Fern, Prairie Trillium, Large Flowered Trillium, Wild Geranium, False Solomons Seal, Duchman’s Breeches, Round-lobed Hepatica and Wild Columbine.
By the time my son and I left the trails we had met up with many other hikers of all ages. It seems our current lifestyle change has people getting out to see nature. One of our goals at Harbor Country Hikers is to learn about our environments while experiencing them throughout the year. You are welcome to join us after this pandemic settles down. Our hikes are generally open to the public. In the meantime, I invite you to experience nature on your own.
Warren Dunes State Park, April 10
The most interesting thing you’ll discover while hiking Warren Dunes is the wide range of ecological climates and micro-climates. You can hike sand and gravel beaches, open dunes, remnants of an old oak-hickory forest, interdunal wetlands, streams and swamps. A different wildflower arrangement around every bend.
This hike was not as photo friendly as the last one. The bright and cheery sun was a monster that created hard shadows, distracting backgrounds, and strong colors. And my camera focused on everything but the subject. Otherwise, the hike was awesome and the wildflowers were plentiful.
We (my son Matt and I) started our hike from the beach parking lot and headed east on the Mt Randall Trail. This is where the most interesting wildflower sightings were, including the flowering bloodroots. These early spring bloomers have a fragile flower that lasts for a relatively short time (probably gone by now). The red juice from the underground stem was used by Indians as a dye for baskets, clothing, and war paint, and as an insect repellent. Please do not disturb these plants as they are protected by request of the Michigan Garden Clubs.
The west end of Mt Randall Trail has swamps and a challenging dune climb, but the climb is not my cup of tea these days. From here we traveled northeast on the Nature Trail which is wide and was unusually dry. We headed westward on the challenging Red Squirrel Trail, around the panne wetland, and down to the beach. To finish our hike we followed the heavily eroded shoreline back to the beach parking lot. The waves were coming in strong and loud with a periodic sneak attack on our boots. A word of caution, this is a 6 ½ mile hike which may be felt the next day (or two)!
Today’s wildflower list: (I’ve added one or two observations from the holiday weekend): Marram Grass, Sand Reed, Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus, Sand Cherry, Sandbar Willow, Bloodroot, Yellow Trout Lily, Round-lobed Hepatica, Spring Beauty, False Solomons Seal, Rue Anemone, Duchman’s Breeches, Common Blue Violet, Large Flowered Trillium, May Apple, Wild Columbine, Toothwort, Blue Flag Iris, Skunk Cabbage and Marsh Marigold.
Kesling Nature Preserve and
Three Oaks Conservation Area, April 4
I chose Kesling Nature Preserve and the Three Oaks Township Conservation Area because of its unusual natural history, its diversity and because these properties are rarely explored. Just so you know, today’s photos turned out to be vibrant because the best time to photograph the woodlands is during or after a rain, IMHO. Oh, and I may have left the trail once (or twice).
The south branch of the Galien River flowed south as the last glaciation was coming to an end. Fact is, south is pretty much the only direction it could flow. Things changed as the glacier receded north. The ground rebounded and the meltwaters were finding new spillways, forcing the Galien and St. Joseph Rivers to find new courses. Harbor Country owes the last Ice Age for all of the ground we stand on down to the bedrock. The gifts left in the Three Oaks preserves have everything to do with what you will discover when you hike here. You will be traveling over and along several types of debris. The geology of your hike will include clayey silt till deposits of the Lake Border Moraine, lake-bottom deposits of glacial Lake Baroda, stream terrace deposits, swamp and marsh deposits, and more recent alluvium deposits. The pre-settlement vegetation included beech-sugar maple forest, mixed hardwood swamp and black ash swamp. We can still see remnants of these environments. It amazes me to find such contrasts in such a small area.
If you are going to visit any of the parks and preserves to view wildflowers, keep in mind that things change every week. Once the trees start to leaf, the wildflowers move on to the next stage of survival. We could spend hours talking about each of the plants and still not cover everything, so I’ll leave the research to you. My list of wildflowers includes May Apple, Prairie Trillium, Wild Columbine, Toothwort, Yellow Trout Lily, Ramp, Spring Beauty, Wood Betony, Turkey Tail, Wild Geranium, Round-lobed Hepatica, Rue Anemone, Common Blue Violet, Sedges, Mosses, Christmas Fern, Stinging Nettle, Jewelweed and Marsh Marigold.