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Paul Henry Trail on the Thornapple River May 16 08

You’re liable to see just about anything along the Paul Henry–Thornapple Trail in Middleville.

Swans patrolling the old millpond.

Muskrats diving in the backwaters.

Fishermen hauling smallmouth bass out of the Thornapple River.

Walkers strolling beneath an archway of trees.

Cardinal flowers lighting the late-summer swamps.

Sandhill cranes nesting out in the marsh.

What’s particularly nice about the Paul Henry Trail is, it’s easy. Easy to access, easy to walk, easy on the eyes, easy in every sense of the word—and that makes it a joy to explore.

I’ve been walking the trail myself since before rocks were born, back when it was still just an old, abandoned railroad track winding along the Thornapple River through some of the most beautiful, richly varied territory imaginable. The Thornapple Trail Association has done a magnificent job of converting the tracks into a linear parkway that respects the needs of both the public and the environment.

To be honest, I was at first dismayed when this stretch of the trail was paved and opened to hikers, bikers, and in-line skaters. In my overall outdoor experiences, I’ve encountered far too many empty beer cans, snack wrappers, and paper cartons in the middle of nowhere, left there by thoughtless individuals who had no problem hiking such objects in when they were full, but who evidently lacked the stamina to carry them out when they were empty. I shuddered to think of that happening along the Thornapple Trail—but my fears have been alleviated. I’m pleased to say that Middleville residents seem to genuinely appreciate the treasure that lies just outside their back doors, and to respect and maintain it accordingly.

Park your car behind the police station on East Main Street, next to the little park on the east side of the Thornapple River. Once on the trail, you can see the first of two old trestles bridging channels that connect the river to the millpond and marshes on the east side of the trail. If you make it only as far as the second trestle, you’ll already have seen enough to make your visit well worthwhile.

But why stop there? The entire three-mile stretch of paved trail from the center of town to Irving Road is beautiful. Treat yourself to at least a mile, especially in late August, when the impossibly red spikes of the cardinal flower glow incandescently in the floodplain forest. Or bring your bike or in-line skates and take the full tour.

Personally, I like walking best. It slows you down and gives you time to see. And there are things worth seeing. An owl peering down at you from a high branch. Soft purple phlox blooming by the trailside. A solitary swan prowling the backwater…a pileated woodpecker calling from the swamp…other birds you’re unlikely to see anywhere else. Indeed, you’re in the heart of a bird watcher’s paradise.

Take your time. Look. Listen. Did you bring your camera? You’ll find no lack of subjects. Great shots practically compose themselves for you along the Paul HenryThornapple Trail. It’s the crown jewel of one Michigan small town—a pleasant hike lined with splashes of Eden.








Written by Dave.