For a new appreciation of the natural beauty and wonder that abounds in Southwest Michigan, see it in the winter. One of the best ways to do that is to visit one of the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy’s 18 nature preserves. To get you off on the right foot, SWMLC staff members share their personal recommendations for experiencing different types of winter wonderlands.
Bow in the Clouds Preserve
3400 block of Nazareth Road, Kalamazoo
Leave life’s stresses behind and explore the quiet sanctuary of
Bow in the Clouds Preserve. Despite its location off busy Nazareth Road, the preserve offers a peaceful respite amid nature’s grace. Follow a short trail to an observation deck overlooking the winter wetland far below and feel your tension begin to melt away. As you walk through the woods to the quiet marshland bowl, traffic noise fades and the only sounds you hear may be the tinkling of icy Spring Valley Creek and a chickadee commenting on your bulky clothes. A boardwalk leads you far out into the marsh, where the sky is huge and your problems get smaller. You fall into the moment and forget everything else.
— Amelia Hansen, Communications Specialist
8300 block of East Main Street, Galesburg
Have you ever imagined what it might be like to climb through the coat closet to Narnia or visit Hogsmeade’s Forbidden Forest at Christmastime? If so, you should come to the Chipman Preserve this winter. The stillness of the white, powdery prairie will draw you into a magical wonderland of winding pathways beneath archways of snow-covered trees. The silence of falling snowflakes is punctuated by the calls of cardinals and blue jays, whose fat, fluffy bodies adorn the branches of leafless oaks and bristly green pines alike. Tiny footprints disappearing into the snow provide evidence of the busy lives of the creatures in the subnivean zone (the area between the surface of the ground and the bottom of the snowpack).
— C. Miko Dargitz, Development Associate
Portman Nature Preserve
28000 block of 49th Avenue, Paw Paw
As the colorful pop of goldenrods fades away with the coming of winter, the raw patterns of nature stand out in full relief at Portman Nature Preserve. The preserve’s 2.5-mile trail system offers views of three lakes, revealed by the absence of summer’s foliage. On a winter evening, stopping with our mouths agape, we admired the setting sun low on the western horizon over Mud Lake. What we hadn’t noticed our first time by that lake were the precise depressions of lily pads etched into the ice, their subtle green silhouettes just visible. It was reassurance that in winter, there is an abundance of life just below the surface patiently waiting to emerge.
— Mitch Lettow, Stewardship Director
Pilgrim Haven Natural Area
18th Avenue, South Haven
What better place to feel the visceral gray ache of Michigan winter skies than at the lakeshore? With barrier-free access to the beach and available overlooks, Pilgrim Haven Natural Area provides the perfect vantage point to watch the crashing wintertide waves. There is something healing about the smell of open fresh water that helps fight the ennui brought about by a lack of vitamin D. Comfortably situated a short drive beyond downtown South Haven and with parking, this natural area offers an easy trail through woods and meadow, and is incredibly welcoming and accessible should the snow start flying.
— Nicole Speedy, Administrative Manager
Black River Preserve
69000 block of Eighth Avenue, South Haven
When cabin fever strikes this winter, consider a short drive out to the 121-acre Black River Preserve for a rejuvenating change of scenery. Only 50 minutes from Kalamazoo, Black River Preserve offers beautiful, rolling, wooded terrain that is sure to warm you up as you hike, snowshoe or cross-country ski. Depending on which trail or trails you follow, you can limit your adventure to a quarter mile or cover nearly four miles (by using all seven connected trails)! Boasting open meadows, lush wetlands, peaceful oak savannas and river overlooks, as well as upland and floodplain forest, Black River Preserve beckons visitors in every season.