by REBECCA FINNERAN
In my book, few things can top a morning stroll around Kent County’s Pickerel Lake-Fred Meijer Nature Preserve. Dewey cattails, the occasional call of an owl, and graceful, white swans slipping through the unbroken mirror of water are things we sometimes equate with a spring-fed, mountain lake. Unknown to many, this Kent County park is a jewel that is right here in our own back yard! Located just a few miles from Grand Rapids, many folks come to Pickerel to enjoy nature but few really know the hidden treasures that lie within its boundaries.
To celebrate this pristine beauty and lend a helping hand at educating the public on bringing nature to your own back yard, an event has been scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 10, from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. “Discover Pickerel Lake!” is a cooperative project between Michigan State University (MSU) Extension and Kent County Parks and is organized by a cadre of nature-lovin’ volunteers by both groups.
According to Ginny Wanty, coordinator for the MSU Extension “Master Naturalist” program, anyone who loves the out-of-doors will want to partake in this event which is designed for families and folks of all ages. While hiking around the two-mile loop at the water’s edge, kids can complete an “eye spy” scavenger hunt as well as listen to 12 narrated stations with adult volunteer educators. Kids who complete their scavenger hunt will be entered into a drawing for a free “Discover!” t-shirt.
Wanty said that folks will be delighted to observe waterfowl, woodland birds and wild turkey, chipmunks, deer and, yes, even beaver during this event.
“Few people realize that beaver are a part of the Bear Creek watershed, let alone are found so close to home,” Wanty said.
The beaver’s elusive nature makes them hard to see during the daylight hours but in the fall, you may see them sliding through the water on a quiet morning or early evening. Evidence of the beaver activity is quite a sight, said Wanty, with those characteristic “pointed” tree stumps and large twig shelters at the south end of the lake.
Besides home to beaver, the post depression era system of dams and engineered waterways, coupled with a wide variety of wooded ecosystems allows guests of the preserve to learn about flora and fauna. Kent County Parks has designed an easy walking trail which includes several boardwalks that cross parts of the lake, allowing guests to get up-close and personal with the natural world. Wanty also points out that, while beautiful, no area in West Michigan is immune from the negative impact of invasive plants and there are some great examples to learn from right here at Pickerel.
Wanty stated, “The goal of this project is to help families find free or low-cost events that enrich their appreciation of nature while connecting them to physical activity.”
While the trails are all handicap- and stroller-friendly, Wanty reminds folks to bring along bottled water and a snack for youngsters who may become worn out on the two-hour hike.
“We hope that folks will go home, tired, happy and educated!” Wanty said.
For more information about this program and directions to Pickerel Lake, log on to www.stuckongardening.com. For more information on a wide variety of garden topics, you can visit www.migarden.msu.edu or contact MSU’s toll-free garden hotline at 1-888-678-3464 with any of your questions.
Rebecca Finneran is a Michigan State University Extension Horticulture Educator, garden writer and lecturer.