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Bradford Dickinson White Nature Preserve April 24 09

Now is the time of year when the wild leeks are greening the forest floor at Bradford Dickinson White Nature Preserve. Of course, you can find this twin-leaved, odoriferous member of the onion family carpeting sections of rich woodland pretty much anywhere in Michigan. But itís a double pleasure to see the leeks announcing springís arrival in earnest at the White Preserve, where the lay of the land is picturesque and the simple but adequate, clearly marked foot trail invites hiking.

Located off of 36th Street south of Lowell, Michigan, the 45-acre preserve is owned by the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, which maintains thirteen unique, ecologically important properties such as Saul Lake Bog, Lamberton Lake Fen, and Lake Breeze. The Bradford Dickinson White Preserver is a place of contrasting terrain, of hillsides clad in oak, maple, and groves of red pine, slanting down to a cold water stream that threads its way through a shrubby wetland filled with spicebush, Michigan holly, poison sumac, poplar, and red osier dogwood.

Yesterday my lovely friend Lisa and I headed to the preserve with our cameras to enjoy a short but pleasant day hike. The temperature was cool but not unpleasant, just at the point where you wonder whether to wear your jacket or leave it in the car, and the sky was a flawless blue. With the first leaves barely beginning to appear on the shrubs, the afternoon light poured from above unhindered, bathing the trees in golden radiance and warming the wildflowers uncurling in the forest duff below.

A short jaunt into the preserve took us to a footbridge over the stream. It was a place to pause and take pictures. White Preserve is a cornucopia of images: huge, knobbly oaks with immense branches spreading heavenward. Smaller trees with twisty trunks corkscrewing up along the trailside. A clump of shining clubmoss butting up against a leafy knoll, looking for all the world like miniature evergreen trees. An old, dead trunk pockmarked with woodpecker holes. Last yearís leaves hanging from an oak sapling, backlit by the sun and glowing like Oriental lanterns.

Further down the trail, a young mullen spread its pale, fuzzy leaves in a sea-green rosette. If plants were childrenís toys, mullen would be a stuffed animalóround, furry, and friendly. Itís not a plant I expect to find in the woods. Mullen is an inhabitant of the fields, prairies, and roadsides, not the woods. But this one evidently had a mind of its own, and it seemed to be doing just fine growing where had rooted.

Bradford Dickinson White Nature Preserve is a pleasant and easy place to hike. Its topography is varied and interesting, and the trail winds for roughly three quarters of a mile up hills and down through the bottomland, but no part of it is particularly challenging provided youíve got two good legs and can walk up a flight of stairs without taxing yourself severely. A visit will always pay dividends, even some rare ones. You just might come across a pileated woodpecker, or perhaps a barred owl. At the very least, youíll find yourself losing a few of your cares and regaining a piece of yourself thatís easy to lose amid the frenzy of daily affairs. The Michigan outdoors can do that for you. It has a God-designed, restorative impact. Set aside an hour or two this week, hit the trails, and experience it for yourself.

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Written by Dave.