Autumn’s Hidden Gems: Washtenaw Nature Preserves
By Doug Marrin, STN Reporter
A great way to easily saturate yourself with fall colors and get that outdoor autumn wilderness feel is to visit one of Washtenaw County’s many nature preserves.
Since 2001, Washtenaw County's Natural Areas Preservation Program (NAPP) as purchased 3,438 acres of diverse habitats--hardwood forests, hardwood wetlands, rolling hills, glacial kames, lakes, marshes, meadows, and prairies—that many of our furry, feathered, and scaly friends call home.
The Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission manages the program, identifying and caring for lands with special ecological, recreational, and educational benefits. The NAPP nature preserves are open to the public from dawn until dusk daily.
Below is the listing of the county’s 28 preserves.
Baker Woods Preserve (11914 Trinkle Rd, Dexter) This 70-acre preserve is predominantly woods interspersed with meadow. Some of the oaks are estimated to be two-hundred years old.
Brauer Preserve (2300 S Parker Rd, Ann Arbor) This 226-acre tract has everything – forest, wetland, and open water. Great for leisurely walks and birdwatching.
Burns-Stokes Preserve (2905 N Zeeb Rd, Dexter) Twenty-nine acres between the Huron River and railroad. A popular path with great river views, stone picnic area, and mix of pine and hardwoods.
Clark & Avis Spike Preserve (18700 Grass Lake Rd, Manchester ) This scenic 103-acres features picturesque Sharon Short Hills and a variety of ecosystems. An observation tower offers a chance for premium views.
DeVine Preserve (6110 W Liberty Rd, Ann Arbor) A 137-acre natural area comprised of hardwoods surrounding by wetlands. Good for bird watching and fall colors.
Draper-Houston Meadows Preserve (569 Mooreville Rd, Milan) 113-acre tract protects over one-half mile of the Saline River shoreline featuring high-quality floodplain forest habitat with oak, walnut, butternut, and sycamore trees.
Ervin-Stucki Preserve (10001 Clinton Rd, Manchester) 126 acres of preserved River Raisin watershed including 1.2 miles of the River Raisin shoreline on both sides of the river. An observation deck provides an elevated view of the preserve.
Fox Science Preserve (2228 Peters Rd, Ann Arbor) This 69 acres is a former gravel pit converted by Pittsfield Twp 40 years ago. The preserve is a step back in time to the landscape of retreating glaciers 12,000 years ago. While exploring the area, keep your eye out for fossils.
Harwood Heritage Preserve (2850 E Textile Rd, Ann Arbor) This 16-acre woodlot is adjacent to the Pittsfield Preserve. Great fall colors but walking trails are currently under development.
Herman Koenn Preserve (2200 Hayes Rd, Chelsea) A 90-acre property consists of a variety of habitats including oak hickory forest, meadows, marsh wetlands, and shrub wetlands which host wild blueberry and chokeberry. Scenic views in all seasons.
Kidder-McKeachie Scio Woods Preserve (4000 Scio Church Rd, Ann Arbor) 91 acres with a 2.3-mile walking trail through varying types of hardwoods. Wetlands feature pawpaw trees, spicebush, and bladdernut. The preserve is also home to barred owls and pileated woodpeckers.
Kosch-Headwaters Preserve (8170 Ford Rd, Ypsilanti) A 160-acre preserve is home to a maple and beech woodland with the rather uncommon blue ash found on the western side. Wetlands and seasonal streams help create the headwaters of Fowler Creek which feeds the Rouge River.
Leonard Preserve (375 N Union St, Manchester) This 259 acres preserves and protects almost one mile of River Raisin shoreline. The largest of the preserves, Leonard has it all – woodlands, wetlands, prairie, a diversity of wildlife and more than 4 miles of walking trails.
Meyer Preserve (2378N Prospect Rd, Ypsilanti) 315 acres of beech-maple woods, a large wetland complex, and active farmland. A great place to spot migrating birds, great horned owls, and mink.
Miller-Smith Preserve (8560 Dexter-Chelsea Rd, Dexter) This 29 acres features a .9 mile path that winds through a wide variety of habitats: oak-hickory forest, white oak swamps, small wetlands, and vernal wetlands.
Northfield Woods & Arbor Woods Preserves (150 East Northfield Church Rd, Whitmore Lake) 81 acres of wooded wetland featuring a shagbark hickory island and a number of vernal pond wetlands. Trail length is 1.7 miles.
Osborne Mill Preserve (3710 E Delhi Rd, Ann Arbor) 18 acres of preserved natural area with a .5 mile walking path. Visitors should note the short length of the property. Progress beyond the signs reading “End of Osborne Mills Park Property” is considered trespassing and subject to possible prosecution.
Park Lyndon (18801 N Territorial Rd, Chelsea) At 335 acres, the preserve can well be considered the crown jewel of the preserve system. The hilly park contains one of southern Michigan’s finest natural areas with over 500 species of plants found in a variety of habitats including fens, marshes, bogs, ponds, forest, and prairie. Two miles of nature trails wind through the glacially formed hillsides. The park is divided my North Territorial Rd.
Raymond F. Goodrich Preserve (3695 N Dixboro Rd, Ann Arbor) This 26-acre parcel features old growth forest of oak, hickory, and maple as well as several small wetlands. Trail length is .62 miles.
Riverbend Preserve (12639 Allen Rd, Clinton) 58 acres featuring the River Raisin. Three-quarters of the park is wetlands. A .9-mile walking path winds in and around the tamarack trees.
Sharon Short Hills Preserve (6700 Hashley Rd, Manchester) 84 acres with a one-mile walking trail through some of the highest elevation in Washtenaw County (1,060 feet). The quiet woods are good for spotting turkeys, woodpeckers, and other birds.
Squiers Preserve (1280 Sylvan Rd, Chelsea) This 59-acre preserve has a diversity of habitats including dry-mesic southern forest, buttonbush swamp, hardwood swamp, sedge meadow, and marsh. The main feature here are the artesian springs in several areas. Walking trail length is one mile.
Tom A. Freeman Preserve (4350 Old Ford Rd, Ann Arbor) The 2.5-mile trail (including Marshall Nature Area) winds through the 71 acres of mature hardwoods and considerable topographic variation.
Trinkle Marsh at Easton Farms Preserve (1152 N Dancer Rd, Dexter) This 150-acre preserve features a large wetland with two observation decks for this premier location in spotting waterfowl and migratory birds.
Watkins Lake State Park & County Preserve (14801 Arnold Rd, Brooklyn) A 5.8-mile trail goes through the 1,122 acres of various habitats among the rolling hills. The star of the preserve is Watkins Lake and the waterfowl it attracts. The park also has historic significance due its connection to the Underground Railroad.
Weatherbee Woods Preserve (8740 Warren Rd, Plymouth) This 84 acres with a 1.4 mile path (includes Shroeter Park trails) is mainly hardwoods including a hardwood swamp.
West Lake Preserve (14980 Waterloo Rd, Chelsea) 217 acres and a 2.2-mile trail through hardwoods and meadows with a rewarding view of West Lake on the back side of the preserve.
Whitmore Lake Preserve (1551 7 Mile Rd, Whitmore Lake) With over 3 miles of trail through 235-acres, visitors can explore diverse habitats and scenic views over small lakes and a large marsh.
Other county gems that are not a part of the NAPP, but every bit worth a visit include Pittsfield Preserve, Marshall Nature Area, and five preserves under the auspices of Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy.
The University of Michigan also has property open to the public such as Saginaw Forest and Stinchfield Woods. Check their website at https://seas.umich.edu/about/facilities-locations/field-properties to learn more. U-M’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum is a dense treasure trove of outdoor splendor. Learn more at https://mbgna.umich.edu/
If you are interested in learning about Washtenaw County Parks and/or the Border-to-Border Trail, you can find more information on the county’s website at https://www.washtenaw.org/288/Parks-Recreation
So get out. Take the kids, the dog, your partner, or get some time alone enjoying the autumn colors, aromas, and sensations. So many places to visit, and such a great time of year to go there.
Links to all of the above locations can be found imbedded in our website version of this article found at https://thesuntimesnews.com/