Tag Archives: Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy

Slipping Among the Lady’s Slippers at Pyatt Lake

Cherry Trees in Bloom on the Old Mission Peninsula

Cherry Trees in Bloom on the Old Mission Peninsula

By MIKE NORTON

Flowers, flowers everywhere! Well, after the long winter and the cold spring we’ve had, it’s been a nice treat. The thing is, instead of taking turns, everything seems to be blooming at once! No sooner did the cherry trees start than the apple trees began — then the lilacs and the crabapples. Here in Traverse City we’ve had a week of amazing color (and lots of pollen) out in our orchards and deep in our forests.

Pink Lady's Slipper

Pink Lady’s Slipper

This weekend, dazed by Sunday’s bright sunshine, my daughter Liz and I took ourselves to Pyatt Lake,  a little jewel of woods and wetlands near Bowers Harbor on the Old Mission Peninsula. This late in the spring, the usual woodland flowers (trilliums, trout lilies, dutchman’s breeches) are faded or disappeared. Instead, we had a wonderful surprise: dozens and dozens of pink lady’s slippers — Michigan’s most lovely native orchid — and hundreds of fringed polygalas, which are so intensely colored that they might as well be orchids.

Fringed Polygala

Fringed Polygala

 

 

Some flowers show best because they grow in the shadows, and these are two good examples. So is the lovely starflower, which gets its name from the way it glows in the gloomy shade of deep woodlands. I was so excited that I had to run back to the car for the camera!

Naturalists call these flowers “spring ephemerals” because they’re here for such a brief time, and it’s well wiorth taking a trip out into the woods to see them before they’re gone. Fortunately, the Traverse City area is one of the best places in the country to see these beautiful blossoms.

Trilliums in Dappled Shade

Trilliums in Dappled Shade

Some spring flowers don’t seem so shy – like the huge white blossoms of the large-flowered trillium, the signature wildflower of our northern woodlands. Trilliums (so called because each plant bears only three leaves and a single three-petaled flower) can be an impressive sight when they carpet the spring forest. Their sheer numbers can sometimes conceal smaller, more delicate neighbors like the trailing arbutus, bloodroot and starflower.

Starflowers on a mossy log

Starflowers on a mossy log

Other spring ephemerals are hard to hide, even among the showy trilliums. Blue hepaticas and violets, red columbines, yellow trout lilies and bellworts, delicate pink spring beauties are easily recognized by their bright colors. (And in the case of the latter, by their sweet scent, which fills the woods on warm spring days.)

Even some of the smaller white flowers can make an impression by the sheer whimsicality of their shape. Dutchman’s Breeches, for instance, really do look like nothing so much as pairs of upside-down puffy white bloomers.

And there’s no hiding the superstars of the spring forest. Northern Michigan’s native orchids — the pink, yellow and showy lady’s slippers — are rare standouts in any setting and easily draw attention to themselves.

May and June are the best months for viewing spring ephemerals in the forests around Traverse City, but I’m guessing you’ll be able to see some of the early ones already. -Usually, upland woodlands break into bloom first because they’re farther from the cooling influence of the cold Lake Michigan waters, while coastal forests can still be in flower for a week or two later. Here are several prime spots for spring wildlflower viewing:

Grand Traverse Natural Education Reserve. Located just outside the city on the banks of the Boardman River, this preserve encompasses several miles of mixed forest, wetlands and meadows and is particularly rich in plant, animal and bird specials. The Boardman River Nature Center conducts regular spring wildflower walks and publishes a self-guiding brochure for those who would rather explore on their own. For information, call 231-941-0960 or on line at http://natureiscalling.org/boardman-nature-center/

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This 71,000-acre national park includes 35 miles of Lake Michigan coastline and a wide variety of plant and animal habitats. The hardwood forests near the dunes are particularly rich in spring flower displays, and the park conducts spring “ranger walks” to them. For information call (231) 326-5134 or on line at www.nps.gov/slbe/

Grass River Natural Area. Just minutes from the bustling Shanty Creek Resort, this 1,143-acre preserve features several different forest ecosystems and includes a well-developed network of trails, boardwalks and observation platforms where visitors can observe rare orchids and other wetland species without getting their feet wet. For information about guided walks, call 231-533-8314 or on line at www.grassriver.org

Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. This five-county volunteer organization supervises a network of 28 nature preserves, and conducts guided walks, hikes and other expeditions throughout the year – including several spring wildflower walks. For information, call 231-929-7911 or on line at www.gtrlc.org

 

Acme Township’s New Public Beach Looks Beautiful

AcmeBeach2 - Copy

By MIKE NORTON

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Well, at long last the cherry trees are starting to blossom, so spring must finally be here!

If you’re interested in checking out a new spot for spring beachcombing or sunset-watching, allow me to recommend the lovely new beach at Acme’s Bayside Park.

Yep, a new beach!

In this era of rapid shoreline development, many coastal resort areas are mourning the disappearance of favorite beaches. But here around Traverse City, the exact opposite seems to be happening.

Over in Acme, on the eastern shore of East Grand Traverse Bay, the local township has spent the last few years acquiring aging motels and other buildings, tearing them down and reclaiming what will be a mile of shoreline for public use. And now they’re unveiling it.

“That’s a lot of frontage and a lot of acreage, and now it’s going to belong to the citizens,” said township supervisor Jay Zollinger. “We’re just going to be the caretakers of it.”

Acme Bayside Park

Fun at Acme Bayside Park (Photo by Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy)

The village of Acme (as opposed to the largely rural township to the north and east) is a small community at the edge of the Bay, just below the towering buildings and sprawling golf courses of the 900-acre Grand Traverse Resort & Spa. For generations, its stunning views of the water could only be enjoyed by speeding motorists on U.S. 31 or guests at private motels — there was almost no public beach.

That began to change in the 1980s, when local residents voted to buy a small parcel of property for a public swimming beach known as Bayside Park – the nucleus of what is now a much more extensive project. Over the past five years, township officials have secured some $6 million in state recreational funds and private donations, acquired over six acres of land with 1,300 feet of shoreline, and demolished five motels, a large restaurant and other structures.

(The process hasn’t been without its interesting moments. Demolition of one motel was halted when local residents and historians objected that its main building — an elegant Victorian home built in 1875 – had belonged to the village’s founder. The building, now known as the Hoxsie House, was spare from the wrecker’s ball and will eventually be moved to another site to become a historical museum.)

Much of  the day-to-day work of property acquisition and fundraising is being carried out by the nonprofit Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. Conservancy director Glen Chown says the park is one of his organization’s most visible successes.

“Everyone was writing off this stretch of road,” he said. “But it’s going to be the new gateway into Traverse City.”

The new beach and park are already open for public use, but it may be several years before local officials are able to install amenities more sophisticated than  the current picnic tables and trash cans. They do have a plan for the park’s future – including even more land acquisition south of the existing site – but for now they’re going to put their energies into creating a permanent endowment for its upkeep.

“We’ve got some great drawings and conceptual plans, but we haven’t begun that process of major rebuilding yet,” said Zollinger. “For now, if people want to enjoy the water, walk along the shore, or just sit and watch the sunset – well, those are good things, too.”

Indeed they are. Kudos to the township, the Land Conservancy, and everybody else involved in this worthwhile endeavor!

Acme Beach

The Sleeping Bear Birding Trail: An Online Resource for Birders

 

A group of birders in the coastal grasslands.

A group of birders in the coastal grasslands.

 

Guest blogger Dave Barrons explains how the new trail from Traverse City to Manistee makes it easier to find the area’s best birding sites.

By DAVE BARRONS

Let’s start with this interesting set of facts: Michigan is home to the seventh most sought-after bird in the continental U.S. –  the Kirtland’s Warbler – and is ranked seventh in the total number of reported birders.  On the other hand,  when it comes to the number of out-of-state birders our state attracts, we’re  fourth from the bottom: 46th out of all 50 states. It doesn’t make sense.

IndigoBunting2So last year a small committee of Northwest Michigan birders launched the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail, the first in Michigan. A birding trail is a travel route: a route that connects recommended, high quality birding locations where walking trails already await avid birders, year round.   Ours follows highway M-22: 123 miles of scenic roadway along the Lake Michigan shoreline from Traverse City to Manistee County.

At its northern end, M-22 wraps both sides of the Leelanau Peninsula, running along the open waters of Lake Michigan and West Grand Traverse Bay, ending  at the intersection of M-22 and M-72. Just north of that intersection, near Carter Road is Fulton Park, one of the trail’s least know sites, but one that offers fine birding possibilities very close to downtown Traverse City.  The park’s single trail passes over secluded, open water in the middle of the property, connects with the paved Leelanau Trail (providing easy bicycle access from town) then swings back around through hardwood wetland to the parking lot.

Along its middle stretch, M-22 runs through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Green HeronLakeshore, whose famed beaches include the home of the Piping Plover, one of Michigan’s most endangered birds.  To the south are the prime birding locations of Benzie and Manistee counties, including the splendid Arcadia Marsh and Grasslands, a 300 acre prairie-grass complex that’s home to more than 20 ground nesting species, including Bobolinks. Both the marsh and grasslands are managed by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, one of the Trail’s major partners.

At the southern end of the Trail, on the north side of the city of Manistee, is Lake Bluff Sanctuary, a Michigan Audubon property. Michigan Audubon is also a major partner in the Trail initiative. Lake Bluff Sanctuary is open to the public and offers upland habitat trails for birding and exquisite picnic grounds on the high bluff above Lake Michigan, as well as a bed and breakfast lodging.

GrosbeakThe Trail website, www.sleepingbearbirdingtrail.org, is the most important tool for birders wishing to get out to any of the recommended Trail locations. A customized BirdTrax widget is located right on the home page for a quick look at all recent sightings along the trail.  Click on the Bird Search tab at the top of the home page to find complete descriptions of the 321 species of birds seen along the trail; click on the Birding Sites tab to find descriptions of each of the recommended birding locations.  Under that same tab you’ll find a map and site descriptions for the Benzie Bonus loop: an additional 13 birding locations located on a separate route leading into eastern Benzie County and back to M-22.  Additional Bonus Loops are under development, to be launched soon.

For serious field birders who wish to keep a list of all the sightings along M-22, a paper checklist covering 321 species is available at the Trail Headquarters office in Glen Arbor, at Lake Bluff Sanctuary in Manistee, and at the Traverse City Visitors Center.

Dave photo-1Best known to Traverse City residents as chief meteorologist for TV 9&10 News, a position he held for 19 years, Dave Barrons grew up in Midland and moved to northern Michigan in 1982. He holds degrees from Miami University of Ohio, Purdue and the University of North Carolina, and is one of the developers of the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail.

Hiking at The Timbers Recreation Area, 250 Acres of Awesome!

Autumn splendor on Fern Lake at The Timbers Recreation Area.

Autumn splendor on Fern Lake at The Timbers Recreation Area.

By MIKE NORTON

Well, it’s certainly been a dramatic autumn in Traverse City this year. The trees have been late coming into their fall color, and the weather has been full of sturm und drang – one minute there’s rain, hail, sleet and snow in abundance and the next minute it’s dazzling sunshine — great masses of clouds chasing across the sky and fat beams of light stabbing down across the landscape.

Since a dramatic season requires a dramatic setting, I found one in a place I’ve never explored before: the proposed “Timbers Recreation Area” on North Long Lake Road, just 10 minutes west of town. It’s a 250 acre preserve, complete with trails, historic buildings and 9,000 feet of waterfront on three lakes, and it’s open to the public.

That is, it’s open to the public now. But for years it was in private hands – first as the backwoods retreat of meat magnate J. Ogden Armour and his family, and later as a Girl Scout camp that ran from the 1960s until 2009. Now it’s in a sort of limbo while the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy raises the $700,000 it needs to qualify for a $2.5 million state grant from the state. When the Conservancy reaches its goal, the property will be turned over to Long Lake Township – but that has to happen before next June, so they’ve decided to let folks come in to see what their contributions would be used for.

Long Lake Township has always been one of Traverse City’s loveliest neighbors. A century ago, this is where local residents built their own summer homes to escape the noise, grime and odors of town. (Contrary to the nostalgic popular legend, Traverse City is a much cleaner, prettier and healthier place now than it was in the “good old days” when the city waterfront was a grimy industrial harbor.) To this day, the township has done a great job of creating and maintaining a wide variety of parks and natural areas.

To get to The Timbers, you drive out on North Long Lake Road, just past the Long Lake Elementary School and tiny Coffield Lake, where you’ll find a gravel road that heads south through the forest. A few hundred yards along this road, there’s a well-constructed fieldstone entryway – one of several examples of masonry scattered around the woods like so many ruins of an ancient civilization.

From the old Armour estate: gates in the forest for roads that no longer exist.

From the old Armour estate: gates in the forest for roads that no longer exist.

They’re remnants of the estate that the Armours built here during the 1920s, which eventually included a main lodge, dormitory, cottages, two barns, an ice house, boathouse, and numerous outbuildings as well as 68 acres of landscaped gardens, pathways and farmlands. Some of that architectural and horticultural history has been lost – I did see the half-submerged boathouse while hiking around Fern Lake – but some of the buildings (including the lodge, which is now a private home) survived when the estate was broken up and sold off after 1945.

The Girl Scouts got the largest chunk of it, of course, and they left their own reminders — a few modest administrative and common buildings, as well as dozens of wooden platforms scattered through the forests that once supported big canvas tents. But the really impressive thing about The Timbers is how much land is just there. Almost  2,000 feet of frontage on Long Lake, an entire 20-acre lake (Fern Lake) inside its boundaries with 4,500 feet of shoreline, and 2,400 feet of shore on yet another, Page Lake. There are two-tracks and trails winding their way through woods, meadows and fields.

A quiet trail along the Long Lake shore.

A quiet trail along the Long Lake shore.

Naturally, I had to get out and explore the whole thing. And it took a long while, starting with the paths that generations of Girl Scouts must have used during their daily trips to the waterfront, the mess hall, the nursing office and their various campsites… and moving out under a canopy of golden maples and beeches… through dark, ferny hemlock woods, uplands filled with burgundy-colored blackberry bushes, and fields of waist-high grasses. The forest was filled with birds.

The barn at the entrance to The Timbers.

The barn at the entrance to The Timbers.

Back at the entrance, there’s a barn and silo of handsome glazed brick where former campers and staff had just finished a sale of furnishings and gear to raise money for the proposed Recreation Area. They had a good time, I was told — but there’s a lot of fundraising left to be done.

When it all finally comes together – and I’m sure it will — The Timbers Recreation Area will provide both residents and visitors with a wonderful place to enjoy the Long Lake waterfront in a natural setting by hiking, fishing, wildlife viewing and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. And the coolest part of it all is that it’s so close to town.

If you want to learn more about The Timbers (Who knows? You might even want to send them a contribution.) you can contact the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy at  (231)922-1245 or email matt@gtrlc.org.

Cooler Weather: A Return to Spring (and Wildflowers!)

A Carpet of Trilliums, Superstars of an Up North Spring
A Carpet of Trilliums, Superstars of an Up North Spring

By MIKE NORTON

Come on. You knew it couldn’t last.

Several weeks of astoundingly warm temperatures had some Traverse City folks dreaming of an early summer, while local fruit growers (who’ve seen this sort of thing before) worried that all the heat would simple make their orchards and vineyards more vulnerable to the inevitable return of cold weather.

Well, the chilly mornings have returned. Instead of temps in the 80s, we’re looking at the 30s and 40s. No more sunbathing weather for a while. On the other hand, this is more like a normal late-March week – except that the grass is much greener than usual, the daffodils are out, and the sun is shining brightly. As the TV announcers used to say, “We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.”

Which, of course, means that we’ll have a little more time to devote to the cooler and gentler aspects of spring – like, say, mushrooms and wildflowers! Every spring, the forested hills around Grand Traverse Bay begin to fill up with crowds of eager, determined hunters. But none of them have guns.

Most, armed with mesh bags and long sticks, are searching for morel mushrooms – the culinary Holy Grail of the northern woodlands, which attracts literally thousands of gourmands to this area each April and May. But for others, the quest is more aesthetic: they’re on the lookout for “spring ephemerals” – shy plants that grow, bloom and disappear for a few brief weeks between the end of winter and the start of summer.

The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy is one of several Traverse City environmental groups that hold annual “wildflower walks” to popularize these short-lived jewels of the spring woodlands. In fact, a growing number of parks and nature preserves are incorporating such walks into their programming in response to an increase in requests from spring visitors.

Some spring flowers don’t seem so shy – like the huge white blossoms of the large-flowered trillium, the signature wildflower of our northern woodlands. Trilliums (so called because each plant bears only three leaves and a single three-petaled flower) can be an impressive sight when they carpet the spring forest. Their sheer numbers can sometimes conceal smaller, more delicate neighbors like the trailing arbutus, bloodroot and starflower.

Other spring ephemerals are hard to hide, even among the showy trilliums. Blue hepaticas and violets, red columbines, yellow trout lilies and bellworts, purple gaywings, delicate pink spring beauties are easily recognized by their bright colors. (And in the case of the latter, by their sweet scent, which fills the woods on warm spring days.)

Even some of the smaller white flowers can make an impression by the sheer whimsicality of their shape. Dutchman’s Breeches, for instance, really do look like nothing so much as pairs of upside-down puffy white bloomers.

And there’s no hiding the superstars of the spring forest. Northern Michigan’s native orchids — the pink, yellow and showy lady’s slippers — are rare standouts in any setting and easily draw attention to themselves.

Tiny Treasures: Spring Beauties and Dutchman's Breeches
Tiny Treasures: Spring Beauties and Dutchman’s Breeches

May and June are the best months for viewing spring ephemerals in the forests around Traverse City, but I’m guessing you’ll be able to see some of the early ones already – I was already finding hepatica in bloom out by Old Mission Point this weekend. Usually, upland woodlands break into bloom first because they’re farther from the cooling influence of the cold Lake Michigan waters, while coastal forests can still be in flower for a week or two later. Here are several prime spots for spring wildlflower viewing:

Grand Traverse Natural Education Reserve. Located just outside the city on the banks of the Boardman River, this preserve encompasses several miles of mixed forest, wetlands and meadows and is particularly rich in plant, animal and bird specials. The Boardman River Nature Center conducts regular spring wildflower walks and publishes a self-guiding brochure for those who would rather explore on their own. For information, call 231-941-0960 or on line at http://natureiscalling.org/boardman-nature-center/

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This 71,000-acre national park includes 35 miles of Lake Michigan coastline and a wide variety of plant and animal habitats. The hardwood forests near the dunes are particularly rich in spring flower displays, and the park conducts spring “ranger walks” to them. For information call (231) 326-5134 or on line at www.nps.gov/slbe/

Grass River Natural Area. Just minutes from the bustling Shanty Creek Resort, this 1,143-acre preserve features several different forest ecosystems and includes a well-developed network of trails, boardwalks and observation platforms where visitors can observe rare orchids and other wetland species without getting their feet wet. For information about guided walks, call 231-533-8314 or on line at www.grassriver.org

Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. This five-county volunteer organization supervises a network of 28 nature preserves, and conducts guided walks, hikes and other expeditions throughout the year – including several spring wildflower walks. For information, call 231-929-7911 or on line at www.gtrlc.org