Did you know that the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy has 18 preserves that are open to everyone from dawn to dusk with no admission fee? With so many to choose from, most of them with trails, it was hard to pick just five that the conservancy staff could all agree on. So, instead, five staff members share their personal recommendations for local getaways where you can find the relaxation that only nature can provide.
Bow in the Clouds Preserve
3401 Nazareth Road, Kalamazoo
Teeming with life, Bow in the Clouds is like two preserves in one, packed with something for every nature lover to enjoy. Your greeting committee? A giant log playground that begs you — or your very energetic kids — to climb all over it. Just beyond it are breathtaking, expansive views overlooking the marsh — the perfect place to unwind and take in all the nature that the wetlands have to offer. Trails circle the preserve like natural tunnels, and on them you’ll cross a bridge over the quintessential “babbling brook” that writers like Thoreau mused about and find a boardwalk that sometimes “talks back” as it squishes underneath your feet. Stay on your toes because there’s always something new popping up at Bow in the Clouds.
— Bruce Howe, Land Protection Specialist
Wolf Tree Nature Trails
8829 West KL Ave., Kalamazoo
A short drive west of Kalamazoo, Wolf Tree has become one of my “go to” places to run trails. There I trade in the smell of automobile exhaust and pounding the pavement for the smell of sassafras and the feel of firmly packed dirt under my feet. With a tight little 1.5-mile trail system — consisting of three trails that overlap one another — it’s a perfect place to run the exact distance I want at the degree of difficulty I want (if you run it three times around, it’s a little over 5k). On days when I have to drag myself out there, I keep it simple and run a nice lazy loop or two around the blue trail. On days when I feel a little more pep in my step, I take on the quad-busting hills, combine the green and blue trails, do three loops, and call it a day with a 5k!
— Mitch Lettow, Stewardship Specialist
Portman Nature Preserve
28779-27815 49th Ave., Paw Paw
A favorite preserve? That’s like asking which of your kids you love the most. But, if forced to choose, I’ll take an early May morning at the Portman Nature Preserve: The mist lifts off the lakes, the songbirds’ dawn chorus erupts, and the world starts to stir. Portman is where I’ve watched coyote puppies tumbling off a log while wrestling. Where I’ve seen one of the rarest butterflies on the planet, the Mitchell’s satyr (Neonympha mitchellii mitchellii), dance over orchids. Where I’ve stood transfixed witnessing water boiling up in a spring as big as a swimming pool. It is a place of both subtlety and grandeur where I can savor beauty in the delicate hairs of a pitcher plant as well as the glory of a sunset over a lake.
— Nate Fuller, Conservation and Stewardship Director
Pilgrim Haven Natural Area
Corner of 77th Street and 18th Avenue, South Haven
Ssshhhh . . . it’s our “secret” South Haven spot and an easy drive from Kalamazoo. With 27 acres, Pilgrim Haven is the right size to let the kids roam without fear that they will go too far. You can feel the site’s history — from the giant, freestanding stone fireplace (what’s left of the old camp lodge building) to the feeling that ghosts of campers from generations past are still running by. It’s easy to lose track of an afternoon here wandering through the spring wildflowers, exploring the beech-maple forest trails, searching for water critters in Dyckman Creek or losing yourself in a quest for the perfect rock on the Lake Michigan shoreline.
— Nicole Speedy, Database Manager
8497 East Main St., Galesburg
I ❤ Chipman Preserve! It has become my haven, my teacher, my exercise partner, my reward after a long day at the computer. Chipman is one of our largest preserves, with 230 acres of oak savannas, rolling woodlands and prairies, and more than five miles of trails. My favorite things at Chipman Preserve: the fragrant and cheerful lupine blooms in May; hot, hazy summer days watching butterflies and dragonflies flutter from one wildflower to the next; the contrast of the crisp autumn air with the fiery colors of maples, sumac, sassafras and goldenrods; and following animal tracks in the snow and imagining their busy little lives amid the apparent stillness of winter.
— C. Miko Dargitz, Development Associate