Up Front

Five Faves - Natural Summer Retreats

Summer retreats abound in area preserves
Corey Lake North Bay Preserve. Image courtesy of Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy.

After months of being cooped up, socially distanced and quarantined, many people are ready to embrace the coming summer and the great outdoors. The 18 public preserves of the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy offer abundant opportunities to do just that. These are some of the “sweet spots” that we, the staff of the conservancy, recommend:

Corey Lake North Bay Preserve

58000 block of West Clear Lake Road, Three Rivers

Every time I drive through St. Joseph County, I make a point to swing by Corey Lake North Bay Preserve, either to eat my lunch or just to take a five-minute break. While I sit amongst a carpet of Pennsylvania sedge, I close my eyes and hear the sound of the breeze off the lake rustling the oak leaves above. Without fail, I forget my binoculars but still manage to spot eastern wood-pewees, eastern phoebes, red-bellied woodpeckers and northern flickers. This preserve is small but mighty, with beautiful towering oak woods overlooking the north side of Corey Lake. No matter what time of year you visit, it always has exactly what you need to realign yourself with the natural world.

Dave Brown, Stewardship Specialist

Jeptha Lake Fen

49000 block of County Road 380, Grand Junction

Jeptha Lake Fen, halfway between Kalamazoo and South Haven, offers a one-mile hike through a unique and fascinating habitat. Trails include rustic two-track roads, mowed paths, and a boardwalk out into the wetlands. Summer is a spectacular time of year to visit this preserve with its blazing purple wildflower displays, birdcalls overhead and 49 acres of fen and forest to explore. I recommend visiting Jeptha in July, when wildflowers are at their peak and summer is in full swing.

Hilary Hunt, Director of Land Protection

Bow in the Clouds Preserve

3401 Nazareth Road, Kalamazoo

Bow in the Clouds is the quintessential “summer in the city” retreat from the heat and hubbub. Tucked into the northeast corner of Kalamazoo, these 60 acres will make you feel like you’re 60 miles from the city grind. A wide, accessible trail meanders into the preserve, taking you to a breezy and breathtaking overlook. Then you can head to the narrower foot trails that lead into the cool shade of oaks older than the city itself. Stop to admire a clear and cold creek and you’ll be cooled down enough to step out onto the sunny wetland boardwalk. Visit the preserve in August and your “welcoming committee” along the boardwalk will be a stand of stunning pink Joe Pye weed as far as the eye can see.

Mitch Lettow, Stewardship Director

Wau-Ke-Na, William Erby Smith Preserve

South and North Tracts 1500-1900 block of Lakeshore Drive, Fennville

You know summer is here when you stand in an ocean of grass and flowers at Wau-Ke-Na, William Erby Smith Preserve’s South Tract with your face to the sky and green scents on the soft breeze. All around, birds sing love songs and throw insults at one another. The season’s first dragonflies go zigzagging by on urgent insect errands. You can stretch your legs on the preserve’s long trails, but eventually the hot sun may send you back to your car for a short drive up the road to the North Tract. Here, a shady path through the woods leads to a small Lake Michigan beach. The waves are a whisper on an early summer day and, for the moment, all is right with the world.

Amelia Hansen, Communications Specialist

Wolf Tree Nature Trails

8000 block of West KL Avenue, Kalamazoo

Here you can wander through a tallgrass prairie dotted with the yellow, purple and white blossoms of native wildflowers and fluttering with visiting butterflies, dragonflies, and gently buzzing bees. You can duck under a cool canopy of towering oak trees that rise from the ancient depressions, or “kettles,” left by retreating glaciers tens of thousands of years ago. Wolf Tree’s rare black oak savanna offers glimpses of many native species of plants and insects as well as native and migratory birds like indigo buntings and blue-winged warblers. Located just west of Kalamazoo in Oshtemo Township with approximately two miles of trails, Wolf Tree is the perfect place for a fun and relaxing summer walk for you, for kids and even for dogs (on leash, of course).

C. Miko Dargitz, Development Associate

About the Authors

The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy Staff

Above from left: C. Miko Dorgitz, Dave Brown, Hilary Hunt, Mitch Lettow, Amelia Hansen

The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy staff works with dedicated volunteers and willing landowners to protect endangered and threatened habitats and species, rural character and open space, agriculture and passive recreation, and extraordinary vistas in nine counties of Southwest Michigan. Since its inception in 1991, the conservancy has protected more than 15,000 acres of dunes, wetlands, forests, savannas, prairies, farms and vineyards that give our region its distinctive character. Learn more at swmlc.org.

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