A walk with Mother Nature in area trails, preserves

By Jeanne Church

When I first started taking nature pictures a few years ago, I didn’t realize there were so many places to explore in southwest Michigan that I had never even heard of before. I had been limiting myself to a few nearby areas that I already knew quite well, but soon found myself wanting more variety. My best resource for new preserves and sanctuaries ended up being the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy (SWMLC).

The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy is a local nonprofit conservation organization that is working to “improve our habitat, protect our water quality, support biodiversity, connect people with nature, and help families conserve the land they love.”

On its website, SWMLC (https://swmlc.org/) provides a map and descriptions for 17 of their public preserves in seven different counties that are free and open to the public from dawn to dusk. I have been to several of these preserves multiple times and have also become a member of the organization to help support their efforts in preserving and protecting the natural areas that I love.

One of the first SWMLC preserves I visited was Wolf Tree Nature Trails. A “wolf tree” is defined by Merriam-Webster as a “very large forest tree that has a wide-spreading crown and inhibits or prevents the growth of smaller trees around it.” One of the trees at the preserve probably sprouted from an acorn in the mid-1800s when settlers were still arriving from the East!

My first visit to the Wolf Tree Nature Trail came in the summer of 2017. As I exited my car, I was blown away by the wide expanse of wildflowers that greeted me! And, as you might imagine in a field full of flowers, there were butterflies everywhere busily working their magic. A photographer’s heaven!

Another SWMLC preserve I enjoyed visiting was Spirit Springs Sanctuary in Mendon. I arrived there shortly after daybreak on a warm July morning and was taken aback by the loud and lovely chorus of American bullfrogs echoing across the pond! I happen to love bullfrogs and have taken hundreds of pictures of them, but my favorite one came from this preserve!

Of all the nearby places where I have taken pictures, though, the one I visit most is neither a preserve nor a sanctuary— it’s a fish hatchery! The Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery in Mattawan is a great place for a leisurely walk and a wonderful place for pictures! There are more than a dozen ponds on the property making it an attractive environment for a wide variety of critters including birds, butterflies, dragonflies, frogs and turtles—plus the occasional deer, fox, rabbit and eagle! The Fish Hatchery is free and open to the public every day of the year.

This is just a small sampling of all the beautiful places in southwest Michigan waiting for you to explore. Put aside your worries and discover how restorative a short walk with Mother Nature can be.

Jeanne’s blog: picturewalks.org

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