County Antrim offers plenty of hiking and biking opportunities
By Ross Boissoneau | April 9, 2022
On the way to the trails? Head to County Antrim. With its many miles of hiking, biking and other trails (hint: those designed for watercraft), it’s one of the best places in the North for outdoor recreation.
Where to start? Let’s start with the Grass River Natural Area outside of Bellaire. This 1,492-acre nature reserve surrounds the Grass River and is criss-crossed by peaceful streams and forests. It has seven miles of trails, including 1.5 miles of boardwalk over northern marsh and cedar swamps.
Executive Director Jenn Wright says the boardwalk provides a unique experience for hikers. “Habitats are unique. Going out into the wetlands with the sounds, the birds, the plants, there is magic in our trails,” she says. “There is a lot of moss, a lot of greenery. He has a special character. »
Wright says those with reduced mobility can traverse the universally accessible boardwalks covering the Sedge Meadow and Fern trails, while the Woodland, Chippewa, Nipissing, Algonquin and Rail trails are upland wooded dirt trails.
The property also includes the Grass River Center for Education, which is manned year-round by a number of naturalists. The Center is currently open on weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; from May 1, it is open seven days a week. Their nature programs include the Owl Prowl, an evening hike where participants are instructed the way owls are, and may even hear or see one of the species that inhabit the region at one time or another. “James Dake, our Director of Education, keeps people still in the dark,” Wright wonders.
Twilight walks offer amphibian viewing, and in May visitors will find programs on birding, wildflowers, mushrooms, and stream watching. Grass River also hosts day camps for children in the spring and summer.
Earth Week at Grass River
Earth Day in the Grass River Natural Area is actually Earth Week. Jenn Wright says the organization is hosting a number of activities, beginning Monday, April 18 with Nature Trivia at Short’s Pull Barn in Elk Rapids. Other events include a sunset walk on Thursday April 21; the Big Sit on Earth Day proper, April 22; and a movie night on April 23 with short films on environmental conservation and outdoor recreation.
The Big Sit is also known as Seton Watch, named after Ernest Thompson Seton, an outdoorsman, wildlife illustrator, prolific writer, and naturalist with a keen interest in Native American customs. The idea is to blend into the surrounding nature. “When we walk in the woods, we make disturbances, move things around, make noise, and disrupt the normal course of nature,” says Wright. The idea of a Seton Watch is to go into the woods or a natural area and find a place to sit comfortably, be still and quiet, and let the birds and other creatures resume their activity.
“As you feel more comfortable, observe your surroundings. Pay attention to the slightest movement and sound. If you sit still long enough, you’ll find yourself assimilated into the rhythm of the forest,” says Wright.
The Big Sit will take place on April 22 from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Attendees will gather at the Grass River Center and head out to the river, then sit quietly and watch the world come to life. Participants are encouraged to bring small chairs and binoculars and to dress warmly. The cost is $10 per person, with all money going to the organization’s Earth Day of Giving campaign.
Next up in Antrim is the Glacial Hills Trail and Nature Area. The 763-acre property is owned by County Antrim, Forest Home Township and the village of Bellaire, protected by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy and managed by Friends of Glacial Hills. It includes 31.5 miles of trails.
According to the Land Conservancy, the site features more than 20 tree species alongside more than 100 types of wildflowers. The trail overlooking Lake Bellaire offers great views of its namesake, and other valleys and waterways are visible throughout. It all makes for an amazing spring bike ride, especially if you’re willing to put some mud on your tires.
Carved centuries ago from – you guessed it – massive glaciers in Michigan, the trails have rolling hills that provide challenges for riders of all skill levels.
“When it comes to cycling it’s suitable for beginners, but for more advanced riders there’s speed, descents, twisty turns,” says Patrick Boyd, chairman of Friends’ board. of Glacial Hills. “If you can drive, shift and use the handbrakes most of the time, you’ll be fine.”
Hikers and runners can also enjoy Glacial Hills, though it’s recommended to keep your head on a swivel – and your headphones turned down – so you can avoid passing bikers.
Some of County Antrim’s trails take us off the land and into the water. Such is the case with the Chain of Lakes Water Trail, one of nine state-designated water trails and the only one not located in southeastern Lower Michigan. It is also the only trail that combines both river and lake waterways.
The not-for-profit organization Paddle Antrim was instrumental in getting the trail recognized by the state. The trail stretches over 100 miles through counties Charlevoix, Antrim, Kalkaska and Grand Traverse, although most of it is in County Antrim. “It includes 12 different lakes and rivers,” says Deana Jardi, executive director of Paddle Antrim.
She says the Upper Range, from Ellsworth to Bellaire, is the shortest and easiest route for beginners. (There is a dam in Bellaire where paddlers must portage.) The Lower Range extends from there to where it empties into Lake Michigan on East Grand Traverse Bay at Elk Rapids. This portion is best suited for intermediate to advanced paddlers, largely due to the increased traffic on the water. There are 84 access sites along the trail, all marked with signs on the water.
Jardi says planning for the trail began in 2014 with the first grant through the efforts of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. Since then, Paddle Antrim has spearheaded the effort, which came to fruition with official state recognition last year.
Even more trails
As the adverts say, but wait: there’s more…lots more when it comes to the trail scene in County Antrim.
The Coy Mountain Trail is tucked away on the east side of Alden. The one-mile trail is part of the Coy Mountain Natural Area, which dates back to 1885 when Reuben Coy decided to preserve a pristine hardwood ridge that towered behind his gristmill. The 11-acre parcel was the last remnant of giant maple and beech trees in an area that had been heavily clearcut by loggers.
The Antrim Creek Nature Area comprises 156 acres of land with nearly a mile of shoreline on Grand Traverse Bay. It is the largest stretch of contiguous, undeveloped shoreline remaining on the entire 132 miles of bay coastline between Norwood and Northport. It is home to incredible natural diversity, including deciduous forest, wooded wetland, coniferous swamp, shrub thicket, grassland, wet meadow and coastal dune.
The Cedar River Natural Area is a 226-acre parcel that offers four miles of trail loops that meander through a variety of forested areas along the Cedar River. It includes 6,395 feet of frontage on the Cedar River.
The Mohrmann Nature Area is designated as a park but managed as forest land under a management agreement with the County Antrim Conservation District. It has coves, abundant wildlife and hiking opportunities.
For more information on these and other hiking or biking trails, go to antrimcounty.org, click Visitors, and scroll down to Parks and Recreation.
Photo by Michigan Water Trails.