A Welcome Stillness in the North Woods

Peggy Dolane is a digital writer who lives in Seattle and shares each summer, and her heart, with Antrim County Michigan. Today, Peggy shares with us a recent experience she had at the Glacial Hills Pathway Natural Area, where she was able to quietly enjoy the beautiful Michigan landscape.

Read about her experience below, and tell us in the comments section some of your favorite places to enjoy a peaceful afternoon in Pure Michigan.

There’s a stillness in the woods that you can’t find on any mediation retreat. Walking along a quiet path the trees stretch up into the sky and embrace you in their canopy.

It’s easy when summer finally arrives in Antrim County to sit all day long on the shore of a sparkling, aqua lake and never venture into the forest. But on grey days when the North wind blows, a hike deep into the woods is a welcomed outing.

For years I’d driven by Glacial Hills Pathway and Natural Area near the Village of Bellaire without giving it a second thought. This summer I heard Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy has partnered with Antrim County and Forest Home Township to develop a series of hiking and biking trails in this 763 acre upland forest. So on a grey July day I decided to check it out.

You’d hardly guess that these woods were logged off more than 100 years ago by Maine investors looking to grow their riches out “west”.  After the lands were logged clear and the lumber barons gone, nature took care of reforestation.

Eventually maples, beech and oak grew up into a high canopy. You’ll also find random groves of red pine evenly spaced like soldiers in their rows. These trees were planted in the 30s by the Civilian Conservation Corp, bringing depression-era jobs to this impoverished region as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Farm houses and back-road single wides have changed little over the past 50 years, and the quiet forests of one of the nation’s most beautiful regions have been left untouched.

Trail designer, Brad Gerlach of Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, expects the 20 miles of trails — featuring rolling hills, wild flower meadows, brilliant fall colors, and stunning territorial vistas — will make this local treasure a mountain biking destination.

It’s easy to get lost in the quiet of the place even with well-marked paths and despite it being just a quick ride down the road from Bellaire. Not having my bike with me, I was happy to wander awhile and listen to the sound of the wind in the tree tops. Drinking in the lush green surroundings, for one precious moment, I sat alone, in the presence of the woods.

Peggy Dolane is a digital writer who lives in Seattle and shares each summer, and her heart, with Antrim County Michigan. You can follow her @PeggyDolane.

Family Fun at the Kalamazoo Nature Center

Discover plants, birds, barn animals and more at the Kalamazoo Nature Center, a fun, informative environment for the entire family. The editors of Michigan Travel Ideas share this springtime find, as well as other kid-friendly stops in Kalamazoo.

Interpretive Center: Young children love to push display buttons to release animal odors and bird calls. They can see fish live in area waters in the aquarium. Before heading out walk the trails, learn plant names in the domed greenhouse.

Barn: In May, the timber-framed barn opens for weekends. See baby farm animals: ponies, chicks, sheep and goats.

Trails: More than a dozen gravel footpaths wind through pine and hardwood forest and alongside ponds and marshes. Though trails range in difficulty, most are less than a mile long. A few highlights:

    • Beach Maple Trail: Take this .7-mile trail to see spring wildflowers in all their blooming beauty.
    • Habitat Haven Trail: Just over a half a mile, this winding woodland path loops around a pond where marshy plants like Joe Pye weed harbor frogs and turtles.
    • Bluebird Trail: A bit longer (2.7 miles each way) and more challenging, this trail goes through a variety of habitats, including a 144-acre tallgrass prairie. You’ll see lots of daisies, purple coneflower and big bluestem grasses.

Events: There are events planned for almost every day of the week and many on weekends. Kid-friendly activities include Small Wonders (stop at interactive stations geared to the under-5 set), Creature Features (where the animals come out from behind glass), Groovy Growing (kids under the age of 5 can visit the Learning Garden to see what’s growing in the sustainable farm project) and story times.

More to explore: Want to make a weekend of your trip?

  • Kalamazoo Valley Museum: This three-story museum blends history and science, with tons of hands-on activities (free!). At the “Science in Motion” exhibit, build a race car using supplied parts and race it around a track (kids love this, but we saw plenty of dads having fun, too). In the nature exhibits, kids can create a miniature tornado or tidal wave.
  • Food Dance: Funky Food Dance restaurant specializes in local food. The kids’ menu includes polka-dot cakes for breakfast and a pint-size burger for lunch and dinner.
  • Radisson Hotel: The 5,000-gallon saltwater aquarium on the lower level will entertain.
  • Air Zoo: Kalamazoo’s signature attraction features airplanes from the earliest fliers to advanced military craft and eight amusement park-style rides, including a 3-D space shuttle ride.