Eastside Neighborhood

Earth Day Workday and Unveil the Trail: Great ways to celebrate spring at Bow in the Clouds

To celebrate spring and recent barrier-free and universal access trail improvements, the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy plans an Earth Day Workday and Unveil the Trail event at Bow in the Clouds Preserve, located off Nazareth Road near Gull Road.

As a move to make trails more accessible so that regardless of physical ability or age everyone can enjoy “nature in the city,” SWMLC has been partnering with Disability Network, the Western Michigan University College of Health and Human Services, and others, to gather information about how to open the preserve to all.

“We really want to embrace the value of community in nature and all of the benefits that natural areas can provide people in terms of physical and mental health,” says Nate Fuller, SMLC Director. “It’s really about sharing the experience. This is not a far-flung nature preserve. This is really available to a whole lot of people not very far away.”

Fuller points out that 80 percent of people with mobility issues don’t use a wheelchair, but move with a cane and have trouble navigating stairs. All of these diverse needs, including the heavier weight of mechanized wheelchairs, have been factored into trail improvements.

In a recent conversation with a woman with disabilities, Fuller says, she looked at him and said, “’I haven’t been on a nature trail since I was a little girl. Those trails weren’t made for me.’”

Fuller and SWMLC are on a mission to change that, though much of the plan is still in the conceptual stages. Fuller says he would like to see the preserve available to all. That means eventually the creation of an Acoustic Trail for blind people, and increased signage.

“I met a blind trail runner. She can run with her dog. She gets really bored of level landscapes and wants a little topographical interest,” says Fuller. “The idea of an Acoustic Trail is where we take you intentionally to a place where the creek is babbling, where the aspen leaves chatter, where under the pine trees it’s quiet. It smells different among the pines than when you are out amongst the cattails. The temperature is different.”

Fuller says lots of factors have to be considered when designing such a trail, and SWMLC believes in approaching enhancements from the standpoint of how to share the preserve without ruining it or altering it. 

“We want to balance sharing natural areas to the point that everyone feels comfortable, but also make sure it stays and feels like a natural area,” says Fuller. “Different people enjoy natural areas in different ways.”

This winter, benches were placed that were donated by Landscape Forms, Inc, and contractors installed a stabilized trail and new loop trail with universal and barrier-free access in the upper area of the preserve. These improvements were funded by the Kalamazoo Community Foundation and individual donors. Future plans include trail upgrades down to and across the creek, and boardwalk improvements, to “share the creek experience,” says Fuller.

Upcoming events

To prepare the trail for the busy summer season, SWMLC is organizing an Earth Day Work Day from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, April 20. Following work hours, volunteers over 21 will head over to Old Dog Tavern for a complimentary pint of beer, thanks to Great Lakes Brewing Company. 

The event is free, but reservations are required because space is limited. To register, send an email to conserveland@smlc.org (be sure to mention the event you are registering for) or call the office at 269-324-1600. As Sister Ginny Jones organized the area’s first Earth Day Celebration in 1970 and for years has been one of the preserve’s lead caretakers from the Sisters of St. Joseph, the event is a fitting tribute.

Unveil the Trail, an open trail event that takes place 1 to 3 p.m., Saturday, May 11 will highlight all the winter work completed on the universal access, barrier-free loop. No registration is required. For more information, please visit here. 

Read more articles by Theresa Coty O'Neil.

Theresa Coty O’Neil is a freelance writer, editor, and writing teacher with over two decades of covering people, places, and events in the Kalamazoo community. She is the Project Editor of On the Ground Kalamazoo.