Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy unveils new Armintrout-Milbocker Nature Preserve in Allegan

More than 200 people poured into the opening celebration of Allegan’s news Armintrout-Milbocker Nature Preserve, a 140-acre public natural area just south of downtown Allegan.

But those who missed the opening gala will still be able to check out the new area any day from dawn to dusk, no admission fee required. They can even bring their dogs, as long as they pick up any droppings and keep them on a 6-foot leash — the rule at each of the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy’s preserves.

The preserve, a resource for Allegan Public Schools as well as the community, has been decades in the making.

“This is a dream that has been in the works for over 20 years, and we are so excited to finally be able to share the Armintrout-Milbocker Nature Preserve with everyone,” says SWMLC Stewardship Director Mitch Lettow. “SWMLC staff and board members first talked with Dave Armintrout in the 1990s to discuss conserving this land, and today, with the support and assistance of so many people, this nature preserve has finally become a reality.”

Amelia Hansen, communications specialist for Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, says attendees came from the Allegan area, southwest Michigan, and even “a couple of outliers: Beaver Island, Watervliet, Grand Ledge, and Golden, Colorado.”

New parking lot at Armintrout-Milbocker Nature Preserve. She says that several members of the Milbocker Family were there  --  but someone in the Armintrout family was getting married that day, so none of them were able to attend. However, Dave Armintrout came to the Tantrick Beer Release party last weekend.

The Armintrout-Milbocker Nature Preserve features more than three miles of frontage along the Kalamazoo River, 80 upland acres of pine-oak forest, and 60 acres of diverse wetlands. It is also home to over 560 plant species – more than almost any property of the same size in the region – demonstrating an incredible amount of biodiversity and underlining the importance of protecting this special place.

SWMLC completed the purchase of the property in December 2021, with funding assistance from the Natural Resources Damage Assessment Kalamazoo River Trustees, USDA Forest Service – Community Forest Program, US Fish & Wildlife Service North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the Carls Foundation, and gifts from many SWMLC members and friends, all of which combined with a generous bargain sale by the Armintrout and Milbocker Families to make the purchase possible. A Consumers Energy Foundation Planet Award, a grant from Mignon Sherwood Delano Foundation, and numerous individual donations provided the funding to install the preserve’s parking lot, trailhead, benches, signs and trail system.

“We’ve been working hard since December to get the preserve ready for visitors, including creating a parking area and a trail system that highlights the coolest parts of the property, while protecting the most environmentally sensitive parts,” Lettow says. “With generous donations from the community, we’ve not only been able to purchase this property and create public access, but we’ve also been able to complete a preserve management plan, begin habitat restoration on the preserve, and create a stewardship fund to ensure that this remarkable property will be protected and cared for in perpetuity.”

Hansen says that while the trails have been used casually by local hikers for many years, those types of trails often don't hold up to the increased amount of foot traffic that they will receive when a preserve is open to the public. 

Trail-building at Armintrout-Milbocker Nature Preserve. “So this time,” Hansen says, “we hired a trail-building company (TrailSense) to consult and build the new trail system so it will hopefully have fewer issues with drainage, erosion, etc. We also kept wildlife in mind when designing the trails — not putting the people trails in sensitive wildlife areas and preserving large chunks of habitat to provide 'quiet' areas for wildlife.”

Designers made the trail system as inclusive as possible using We Conserve PA's Trails for All People, Guidance for Accessibility and Inclusive Design as a resource  — keeping trail width, surface, and grades in mind. 
“The trail is not perfectly accessible,” Hansen says, “but we did our best given the land's natural limitations and we think it's a step up in this way from some of our past trails.”

The parking area includes two paved accessibility spots, and was designed to accommodate school buses.

SWMLC looks forward to the Armintrout-Milbocker Nature Preserve becoming an integral part of the community, serving as an outdoor classroom for local K-12 students, supporting the physical and economic health of the City of Allegan which is working to promote outdoor recreation and tourism.

Coming up 

In the near future, a trailhead kiosk will be installed that will include a trail map and bilingual panels written in both English and Spanish, and benches that are strategically placed at scenic overlooks and good resting spots. 

The Conservancy will continue to manage and restore the preserve's habitats through the removal of invasive species and periodic prescribed burns.

Supporting  Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy — a beer at a time

Tantrick Brewing Company, a new brewery on downtown Allegan’s riverfront,  has released a beer in support of the Armintrout-Milbocker Nature Preserve —  Wanderin’ Wit, a 5.8% abv Witbier brewed with lemon and orange peel, malted oats, and coriander. 

“All of the proceeds from the sale of that beer will be donated,” says Tanya Schafer, who owns Tantrick along with her husband, Patrick Westover. “We made a 3-barrel batch. We will do a different beer each year around this time in support of the preserve to help with the costs of maintaining the trails.”

Schafer says the preserve is “an awesome addition to our community — and selling beer is a fun way to raise awareness and get everyone involved with conservation. We have plans to package next year’s beer in support of the preserve, as well.”

Wanderin’ Wit is a fruity, floral, and sweet wheat beer with subtle peppery notes and a soft mouthfeel. Supporters of the Armintrout-Milbocker Nature Preserve can stop in at Tantrick, 243 Hubbard St., anytime and order a pint of Wanderin’ Wit until it’s gone.

The taproom is open from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; from noon to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Kitchen hours are 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, noon to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Rosemary Parker.

Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years, most of that time in Southwest Michigan.