Michigan Trail Tuesday: Lepard Nature Preserve, Kent County Parks
Michigan Trail Tuesdays is a new feature that will showcase a different trail or trail segment each week. The Mitten State is home to thousands of miles of trails, including the new Iron Belle Trail that runs from Detroit in the southeast to Ironwood in the western Upper Peninsula.
Kent County Parks operates more than 40 properties, including some of the area’s finest trails and well-maintained parks full of excellent outdoor recreation opportunities. As part of our continuing quest to check out as many parks close to us as we can, we recently visited the Lepard Nature Preserve on 76th St. north of Caledonia. This 50-acre preserve dates back to 2003 and explores rolling wooded hills, open fields and scenic stream valleys and offers “a unique opportunity to explore and enjoy a pristine natural area close to urban life.” The part about urban life is no exaggeration as the preserve is surrounded by houses and is close enough to M-37 that you’ll be able to hear traffic during parts of your hike.
The main trail is close to 3/4 mile with most of it being a loop, and it features several bridges over a seasonal stream as well as interpretive and educational signs. From the parking lot the trail crosses a wooden bridge before heading into the woods and winding around to the start of the loop. You’ll want a decent pair of shoes or hiking boots, as we found the trail can get quite muddy in spring or after rain. We headed to the right to start the loop, and soon saw our first informational sign. We’ll take a look at eight of these signs that highlight features of the preserve below:
The first sign highlights the wild turkey, one of the residents here. It notes that turkeys can run up to 55 MPH, have a mostly vegetarian diet, and lay up to 15 eggs at a time.
We next came to a bench with a great view of the stream valley. The sign looking out here explains that this is an intermittent stream, a waterway that only flows following a heavy rain.
The path continued, with another bridge crossing a branch of the stream. The preserve is open to foot traffic only, and by the time you reach this point of the trail it’s impressive how much quieter things are despite the close proximity to the highway.
The next sign talks about how easy it is to spot animal tracks in the mud along the edge of the stream. Turkey, raccoon, deer and squirrels are mentioned as the most likely candidates – we saw raccoon tracks in several places.
Next up we learn about how what is a field today might later become a forest, and the plants that appear at each stage of that transformation.
The next sign asks you to do some critical thinking, and consider what the preserve and surrounding area look like from above. It further asks you to imagine how a deer would traverse this park.
Next up we learn about one of the preserve’s amphibian inhabitants: the salamander. While you may not see one when you visit, you can be assured they are there under the leaves and under the logs, playing a vital part in the ecosystem.
Next up is a sign about the Great Horned Owl, one of the inhabitants of these woods that you likely won’t see, nut might see evidence of.
Finally, we come to the last sign, one that highlight’s the preserve’s biodiversity but also reminds visitors that is up to us to leave the preserve how we found it and not disturb any plants or animals. Over 230 different plant species have been identified here at Lepard Nature Preserve!
This small preserve offers a trail that should be manageable for just about everyone, that provides some peace and quiet despite being surrounded by housing developments and busy roads. You’ll find the Lepard Nature Preserve parking area behind the Spirit of Life Church at the corner of Broadmoor Ave. (M-37) and 76th St.