Ski, hike or snowshoe at Ross Preserve

Almost a month ago, I took advantage of one of our snow-blessed days to discover a nature preserve that a few people had suggested for cross-country skiing, just across the county line from Van Buren and halfway between Benton Harbor and South Haven.

the Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Reserve absorbs 1,448 acres of varied habitat, even a few sand dunes, but it’s one you don’t hear much about.

It has no groomed snow runs. And, as the reserve’s many interpretive panels point out, the best times to visit may be from spring through fall. It is then that its marshes are filled with birds, including 100 nesting species and many migratory ones.

Nature conservationowner of the reservation, says its three Coastal Plain marshes are among the highest-end out of 42 such marshes across Michigan.

But, as I found, it’s also a lovely place to ski, snowshoe or hike, especially since the late-day sunlight casts a warm glow and shadows. on the snow.

When I visited, for the most part, hikers and snowshoers had not trodden the ski trails made by someone else (not to mention the deer walks). Rather, they were side by side, a matter of track etiquette that I discussed in this column a year ago.

A Coastal Plain marsh slumbers under late January snow at the Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Preserve.

From February 2021:Ice and Snow Sports: How to Ignite Your “Real Winter” Love, Starting with Trail Etiquette

I found some slightly rolling trails off of the part of the well marked 5 mile trail system I sampled, mostly the southern half, but nothing complicated. I had to climb a massive downed tree.

Granted, now might be a better time to hike there with ice cleats or Yaktrax unless, who knows, snow arrives in another weekly “storm of the century.”

Either way, you may spot red-winged blackbirds. There were local reports of these migrants in early spring last week, but not many, and I saw some on a Sunday in South Bend. In spring, however, warblers and waterfowl will populate the Ross Preserve, along with emergent amphibians and reptiles near marshes and ponds, as well as red foxes and coyotes.

Pine trees dominate the small parking lot at the Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Preserve.

From the small parking lot to the south, the trail goes through open areas where rows of red pines have recently been felled. A long-time hiker I met says he misses the wooded planting, but The Nature Conservancy cut down the non-native trees because they robbed the understory of sunlight. Native trees will be planted in their place, says Kari Marciniak, director of strategic communications at The Nature Conservancy in Michigan.

Further north there is a photo-worthy stop with a bench where you can see the two remaining stone walls of the old cottage on a small lake that belonged to the Ross family, who owned the land. A tree has taken root halfway up one of the walls.

Two walls are all that remains of the Ross family cottage on a small lake at Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Preserve.

The reserve’s north entrance/parking lot is closing because after many windblown trees a year ago, you can’t venture far on the trails, says Marciniak, adding that all trails will be always accessible from the south.

The preserve: Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Preserve has no restricted hours, no fees, and no restrooms. All trails have a natural dirt surface. Pets, bicycles and motorized vehicles are not allowed. Find an audioguided tour and more information about the the preserve website, linked in this column online.

Directions: From Interstate 196, take Exit #7 (St. Joseph/Benton Harbor) and follow Hagar Shore Road west to Blue Star Highway, then travel 2½ miles north. Look carefully for 44th Avenue and turn right. Cross the highway and find Ross Preserve on the left, across from Dune Lake Campground.

A tree takes root in one of the two remaining walls of an old cabin at Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Preserve.

quiet adventures

As of March 1, the online site Quiet Adventures Symposium will feature more than 20 informative presentations, such as backpacker tips for visiting Michigan’s North Manitou Island or the North Country Trail. Or one man’s 1,000 mile solo kayak trip around Lake Superior without assistance (not even a smartphone or GPS) in the harsh summer weather of 2018. The virtual symposium offers first-hand advice from authors and experts on non-motorized sports in the Midwest, Canada and abroad.

Started in the mid-1990s, it was a day-long gathering of hundreds of outdoor enthusiasts at Michigan State University in East Lansing with dozens of vendors and old, handmade boats. But the new pandemic format has, for now, made it easier for us to participate. For $10, you can tune in to the opening event live from 7-9:30 p.m. on March 1, as well as watch any or all of the 20+ on-demand presentations through April 30. You can register at any time until April 30. Sign up and learn more about the presentations, including teaser videos, on

In late January, skiers make tracks near the remains of a lakeside cabin in the Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Reserve.

The opening night will feature Michigan guidebook author Jim DuFresne talking about backpacking in New Zealand, musicians singing about paddle trips, and camping book author Cliff Jacobson sharing tips for a more tent-like life. comfortable. Their pieces will also be part of on-demand offerings, including:

A young couple’s advice on juggling their baby’s needs with everything from hiking to snowshoeing. Another couple’s experience with the 3,000 mile bike race across America. Insight from Chicago Adventure Therapy’s young paddlers on sharing our passion for paddling with Black, Native and People of Color. A couple’s canoe trips on five Midwestern waterways, from the Wisconsin River to the Chicago River. Photos and stories of a woman who kayaked around the Great Lakes and part of the Mississippi River.

More from this column:Hike, make syrup, explore with scientists, plan the year’s hobbies

Follow Outdoor Adventures columnist Joseph Dits on Facebook at SBTOutdoorAdventures. Contact him at 574-235-6158 or [email protected]

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