GTPulse: Spring Beauty at Grass River Natural Area

My first time going to Grass River Natural Area in Bellaire was this past Fall. I was attending one of the many classes they offer and when I got there all I could think about was how much I wanted to return to roam the trails when it got warm out again. Although there aren’t educational experiences being offered right now, the trails are open and wildlife is emerging all over the beautiful natural area.

It’s strange to think that there are living beings that are unaware of the pandemic going on in our world right now. Plants and animals of all kinds are still waking, growing and thriving.

“Totally unaware. There’s been some news coverage on the benefit to the natural world during this pandemic, just in terms of way fewer visitors to national parks and the wildlife now is sort of reclaiming those areas,” said Emily Burke, a naturalist at GRNA.

The natural area, along with other outdoor recreation in Northern Michigan, has seen a steady stream of visitors. With the outdoors being one of the few recreational activities that people can indulge in right now, it’s no surprise.

“I think that nature and getting outside is a source of comfort for people right now. I think it’s important for people’s mental health right now, too. There’s something really restorative, I think about getting out and witnessing Springtime you know? There’s renewal and all of these things blooming. The world is coming to life.”

A big part of Emily’s job as a naturalist is to educate the public on the environment and wilderness at GRNA. However, because the educational classes and walks haven’t been available she hasn’t been out at the natural area as much as she would be. Having more time away from GRNA hasn’t stopped her from noticing and admiring the change that the Spring is bringing.

“I was out and I saw a muskrat. Mammals generally are pretty secretive, and a lot of them are nocturnal. You won’t catch a glimpse of them very often, but on our trail cameras, we’ve been seeing a lot of neat stuff like coyotes, otters. I saw footage of a mink the other day. But…birds. This is such a good time of year for birds. They’re out. They’re singing away. Some of the larger more charismatic birds are loons, sandhill cranes, and tons of smaller songbirds like warblers.”

Frogs have also started to peek their heads out from their mud-covered hideaways, as well as painted turtles. 

There are some new and old etiquette rules to follow when on the trails. The trails have been modified to make social distancing effortless so that you won’t have to pass by others while on them.

“If you come to Grass River and the parking lot is super packed, maybe consider parking at the Rail Trail or the Algonquin Trail and doing one of the lesser-used loops, which are still gorgeous, it’s just not the boardwalk loop totally unique to Grass River. Obviously maintaining that social distance and abiding by the trail traffic that we’re asking people to follow. You would not be able to pass somebody on the boardwalk and stay six feet away without stepping off.”

Stepping off the boardwalk and into the wetlands, even for a moment, can cause eco disruption that takes a while for its plant and animal inhibitors to recover from. For the sake of their health and happiness, don’t do it. You’re in their home as their guest after all. Emily also noted that dogs on a leash are welcome at the Rail and Algonquin trails, but that they not be taken to the boardwalk trails to risk upsetting the wetlands.

“We also ask people not to pick any plants or feed any wildlife.”

If enjoying the trails isn’t an option for you right now, you can still participate in some of the Grass River fun. They’ve added virtual education and experiences like micro classes on wildlife, wildflowers, edible plants and more. They also have a self-guided wildflower hike pamphlet, as well as a bunch of interactive educational resources for kids.

For me, weekend plans consist of two things – staring at the ceiling as I slowly slip into madness, or getting outside for a walk. Which one sounds more appealing to you?

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Categories: GTPulse