As a child, Kim de Bruin played on the Lake Michigan dunes and explored the shoreline forests around Mount Baldy between Arcadia and Frankfort in the northwestern Lower Peninsula, but that ended when she developed muscular dystrophy. “The last time that I physically walked into that area that is now called the Arcadia Dunes was when I was 17 years old,” she recalled.
Then she got a second chance. In 2017, the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy opened its first universally accessible trail, and for the first time in 43 years, de Bruin was back in her old stomping ground, propelling herself along the 0.6-mile Overlook Trail near Mount Baldy and toward the second of two scenic overlooks where she could scan the dunes and feel the lake breeze. “It was overwhelming,” she said. “I had to take quite a bit of time just to get my eyes to clear and see that spectacular view of Lake Michigan.”
The Land Conservancy has since opened a second universally accessible trail at Arcadia Marsh Nature Preserve. The 0.75-mile Arcadia Marsh trail opened in July. It is a boardwalk over an old and narrow railroad grade that takes visitors across a 273-acre coastal marsh.
During the year, the marsh hosts some 230 species of birds, 17 of which are rare, threatened or endangered (part of the trail will be closed during critical nesting periods). Restoration efforts over the last couple of years are helping wild rice and other native plants to make a comeback and have improved fish habitat.
“We strongly believe that everybody should have equal access to nature,” said Jon Throop, the land conservancy’s volunteer and events program manager.
Another feature is its role as a coastal marsh, something quite apparent this year, Throop said. He explained the marsh takes in water from Lake Michigan when the lake levels are high, and they are very high this year. In other words, the marsh serves as a natural buffer, which mitigates lakeshore flooding. The marsh also filters runoff from farms and private property in the surrounding watershed before releasing it into Arcadia Lake and Lake Michigan, he said. “So, this marsh is hugely important in terms of water quality, nutrient filtration, and rare and endangered species. This marsh has got everything,” Throop said.
With universal accessibility, these special places are even better, remarked de Bruin, who now serves as a volunteer steward on the Overlook Trail at Arcadia Dunes: The C.S. Mott Nature Preserve. “There’s nothing like being able to take your wheelchair or walker or whatever mobility aid you need to use and take that trail the same way others do,” she said. “Everybody wants and everybody needs that time to get out and enjoy all the sights and sounds and smells of nature. I’m very grateful that the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy has such a passion for this.” ≈
– Leslie Mertz, Michigan BLUE Magazine