THREE OAKS — The Harbor Country Hikers were back on the trail Saturday, June 27.

Hikers President Pat Fisher led a trek through the Three Oaks Township Conservation Area (via a trail he did much of the clearing on) and the adjacent Kesling Nature Preserve. It was the first formal hike the group has conducted since coronavirus shutdown rules for Michigan were eased to allow gatherings of up to 100 people as long as social distancing is observed. The 20-plus people participating wore face masks.

Fisher pointed out many features of the two protected areas during the journey of approximately 1.6 miles — everything from tulip tree blossoms and old fence lines marking the boundaries where cattle once grazed (and young forests now grow) to ravines that are filled with wildflowers in the spring and the many rare avian species that draw birdwatchers to the site.

The trek began through an open area of the Conservation Area (owned by Three Oaks Township) where he said there are different types of prairie ecosystems and pointed out a prairie ant mound next to the trail, noting that the area around the nest is kept clear of trees and other tall growth.

“They’re a sign of a healthy prairie,” he said, adding that there are probably hundreds of them in the immediate area.

Also present were red honeysuckle berries on a plant considered invasive in Michigan which Fisher said aren’t very nutritious for birds.

Fisher said the area has a high water table so many trees have shallow root systems which causes some to topple over in high winds. In addition to the tripping hazards presented by downed trees, Fisher talked about poison ivy, ticks and mosquitos that are often encountered in natural areas.

The woodland portions of the hike traversed both sides of a scenic ravine that lies in the middle of the protected area featuring a climax forest filled with massive beech and maple trees.

The second half of the hike started near the South Branch of the Galien River near the entrance to the Kesling Nature Preserve (owned by the Southwest Michigan Nature Conservancy). The river was high and filled with sediment due to a recent heavy rain and the tight bend it makes while passing through the preserve.

Fisher pointed out a spot where a small culvert under the path allowed water from the big ravine to reach the river. He also said steelhead trout, chinook and coho salmon are known to visit the river during their spawning seasons.

Fisher said the area has a unique geological history dating to the days after the glaciers had melted.

“You’ve got all that flat land (near) Three Oaks … take 12 toward Buchanan, and you go uphill in the Galien area, that’s where the moraines are. But everything in between was flowing water, and this is where a lot of it gathered.”

He also shared some tips on making outdoor excursions fun for children.

Kate Mell of New Buffalo walked with her dog, “Sally,” from start to finish.

“She did very well, she didn’t pull, she was nice to everybody, she had a good time!”

At the end of the trail, Fisher asked people to send suggestions for the next Harbor Country Hikers outings (likely on July 12 and July 25 — the Harbor Country Hikers website is www.harborcountryhikers.com) from the #10Trail Challenge being sponsored by Chikaming Open Lands and the Rotary Club of Harbor Country through the month of July.

The #10Trail Challenge features picture frame selfie stations located on 10 area trails. Hikers can snap a pic and hashtag COL on Instagram with #10trail AND #chikamingopenlands (they also can tag COL on Facebook or email the selfie pictures to col@chikamingopenlands.org) with a chance to win prizes.

For those who hike all 10 trails the top prize is one $10 gift card to either Patellie’s, David’s Delicatessan or The Peasant’s Pantry. Hiking 3 to 9 trails makes participants eligible to win one $5 gift card to either Infusco Coffee or Scoops Ice Cream. COL will contact all winners at the end of July.

Frames will be out from July 1 to July 31 on trails at the following sites: Sarett Nature Center, 2300 N. Benton Center Road, Benton Harbor; Lake Michigan College, 2755 E. Napier Ave., Benton Harbor - hike on main trail to loop, the Selfie Station is located between trail marker 5 and 6; Warren Dunes State Park (parking at Floral Lane only - walk to Warren Dunes entrance, follow trail markers towards marker 13, Selfie Station will be on top of a split dune, take to the left; Tower Hill Camp and Retreat Center, 12173 Tower Hill Road, Sawyer; The Chris Thompson Memorial Preserve, 7550 Warren Woods Rd, Three Oaks; Galien River County Park, 17424 Red Arrow Hwy., New Buffalo - Selfie Station at the bottom of stairs of the canopy walk overlook; Burns Prairie Preserve, 18195 Mt. Zion Road, Galien; Jens Jensen Preserve, 6851 Parkway Drive, Sawyer; Bendix Woods County Park, 32132 IN-2, New Carlisle, Ind.; and Harbert Road Preserve, 5842 Harbert Road, Sawyer.

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