Gallup Park – Ann Arbor, MI

gallup park

 

Location map:    http://goo.gl/maps/wuOx4

Website map:      http://tinyurl.com/kdeyxhj

Trail map:            http://tinyurl.com/kn3wskm

On a nice day, this park is a beehive of family activity.  On a less than perfect day, it’s a bit more of a quiet, solitary experience.  The Huron River widens here, thanks to the Dixboro Dam downstream, and forms a lake that is great for boating and fishing (in small boats).  The canoe livery rents canoes, kayaks and paddleboats for hourly use.  If you want, you can rent a canoe upstream at the Argo Livery and paddle/float down the cascades and Huron River, past the University of Michigan Hospital and the Nichols Arboretum to Gallup Park.

At Gallup Park itself, a loop trail around the “lake” provides a leisurely, popular way to shed some pounds, and the paved linear trail along the river is very popular with joggers and roller-bladers.  This is the only place in Ann Arbor where you get a “big water” experience as the river is relatively narrow through the town, but the smaller bridges and wood chip paths on the north side of the park give you a more intimate contact with the river and native vegetation on the man-created islands.

(The paved trail actually extends well beyond Gallup Park – through Fuller Park to Fuller Road and along that up to Argo Park – great for hikers, bikers and roller-bladers who really want a workout.)

As Gallup Park and its surroundings have a number of habitats, from rivers/open water to riverbank/swamp and floodplain forest, and upland oak-hickory forests there is a great variety in the birds you can spot on your visit, and the adjacent Nichols Arboretum is one of Ann Arbor’s birding hotspots.  You can reach Gallup Park by foot from downtown Ann Arbor or campus if you like a 3 mile walk, but parking within the park is also plentiful.  It’s a great place to see Ann Arbor citizens and visitors, and a good number of feathered residents as well.

Northfield Woods Preserve – Northfield, MI

northfield woods

Location map:              http://goo.gl/maps/miptD

Website:                       http://tinyurl.com/l6dzcoe

The woods serve as a backdrop for damp areas, hawthorns and open field in Northfield Woods Preserve

The woods serve as a backdrop for damp areas, hawthorns and open field in Northfield Woods Preserve

I visited this preserve, managed by Washtenaw County Parks Natural Areas Preservation unit, in late fall, which is probably the least interesting time to see it, but I still liked it.  It has a loop trail through the open area of the preserve, where I’m sure you can see many birds on days and seasons with better bird weather.  There are many hawthorn trees about which are quite popular with birds when they have fruit.  When I was there, they had thorns.  The trail eventually winds into the oak-hickory forest on the north section of the preserve.  According to the preserve’s website, there are several vernal ponds in the woods, which should be loud with spring peepers in early spring, and also are home to ferns and I’m sure many other wildflowers.

Northfield Woods in spring - Photo courtesy of Washtenaw County Natural Areas Preservation Program

Northfield Woods in spring – Photo courtesy of Washtenaw County Natural Areas Preservation Program

I’m looking forward to visiting the preserve again in the spring to see what grows there, and what wildlife hangs out there.  It’s very easy to get to from downtown Ann Arbor – just shoot out Pontiac Trail to Gleaner Hall Road, go north on that to Joy Road, left on Joy to East Northfield Church Road and north on that until you find the preserve on the right.  It may be 10-15 minutes from downtown Ann Arbor, so you could even enjoy it on a long lunch hour.

Lakefront Park – Kissimmee, FL

 

kissimmee lakefront park

 

Website:                         http://lakefrontpark.org/lakefront/index.php

Location map:              http://goo.gl/maps/lMlCg

Google Earth location: 28°17’25.50″ N  81°24’12.63″ W

 

Kissimmee’s Lakefront Park is a nice park in the heart of Kissimmee, on the shores of Lake Tohopokaliga.  The park offers both open and shaded areas, displays of native plants and animals, and a jetty and trail take you out into South Lake Tohopokaliga  to give you a taste of the big, 19,000 acre lake without need for a boat.  A fishing deck offers you the chance to reel in a fish from the lake, or just see what others are catching.  Of course, if you really want to get the full lake experience, you can rent boats or canoes for fishing (bass fishing especially) or sightseeing and birdwatching from the water.

Photos of Lakefront Park, including some of the new landscaping and trails.  Photos courtesy of City of Kissimmee Parks and Recreation

Photos of Lakefront Park, including some of the new landscaping and trails. Photos courtesy of City of Kissimmee Parks and Recreation

In addition to those natural elements, there are playgrounds for the kids there as well, so they can work off some energy while you take in the expansive lake frontage.  An added advantage of this park is you’re just a short walk from Kissimmee’s quaint downtown shopping district, which isn’t nature, but it is pretty cool.

Of course, being this close to the lake there are bound to be birds, and there is a nice writeup of the park on the Great Florida Birding Trail.

The park is currently undergoing a dramatic transformation to increase its linkage to downtown and to make it even more attractive to a range of users.  New landscaping, playgrounds and rain gardens to treat stormwater runoff are just a few of the new elements that will be included.  See the brochure at the end of this entry (courtesy of the City of Kissimmee Parks and Recreation Department).

So, if you’re looking for a somewhat low-scale, free, semi-urban nature experience when you’re in the Kissimmee/Orlando/Walt Disney World area, check out the “new” Kissimmee Lakefront Park.  It has a lot to offer.

Lakefront Phase II - Brochure_FINAL-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lakefront Phase II - Brochure_FINAL-2

Tibet-Butler Preserve II – Windemere, FL

tibetbutlerii

Location map:              http://goo.gl/maps/lxC2W

Website:                       http://tinyurl.com/kyhnqaj

 

I visited this preserve last week and am very glad that I did.  Its trails are well-defined and easy to follow (but be aware that there are more than one tree root that may trip you up – try to look up for trees and birds, and down for roots, other birds and other interesting plants).  It has some sturdy boardwalks over the wetter areas, and a very nice covered observation deck in a swamp at the edge of Lake Butler where you can watch for ospreys, otters, and oh, so many turtles.  I saw ospreys and turtles, but no otters.

Some of the varied habitats at Tibet-Butler - hot and arid and less than 300 yards away, a cypress swamp on the edge of a large lake.

Some of the varied habitats at Tibet-Butler – hot and arid and less than 300 yards away, a cypress swamp on the edge of a large lake.

One of the neat things about this preserve is the presence of several distinct habitats in a relatively small area.  Swamps, with flowering yellow bladderworts, cypress trees and more, upland longleaf pine forest and extremely dry terrain with turkey oak, tarflower (which wasn’t in flower when I was there, in mid-February) and other plant life adapted to such arid conditions.  The preserve has an informative guided trail pamphlet to help you learn more about the plant life you encounter along the trail.

I’d love to say that you could forget about civilization as you wandered the path, but unfortunately developments surround it and my nature reverie was disturbed by the sounds of new home construction just beyond the preserve’s northwestern boundary.  Kind of a jarring, unsettling sound, but that makes the preserve all the more valuable, to show people what is naturally there, and possibly encourage homeowners in the area to plant some native plants that are found in the preserve in their own yards to offset some of the damage that was done in creating the subdivisions around it.

The Vera Carter Environmental Center is a very nice facility with good information about the preserve and the wildlife of the area.  It also has a gopher tortoise, which can be found in the preserve and unsettled dry areas in Florida.

The Vera Carter Environmental Center has a gopher tortoise outside, and very helpful information about the preserve and its citizens inside.

The Vera Carter Environmental Center has a gopher tortoise outside, and very helpful information about the preserve and its citizens inside.

If you’re visiting in the Disney area, or living there, I highly recommend that you make the time to visit this preserve.  And, be sure to turn left at the intersection of 535 and S.Apopka- Vineland Road (unlike me).  You’ll save quite a bit of time in finding the preserve, which has a very noticeable sign, if you get on the right road.

Animal Kingdom – Walt Disney World – Lake Buena Vista, FL

animal kingdom

 

Location:    http://goo.gl/maps/AanSr

Website:    https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/destinations/animal-kingdom/

Park map:    http://tinyurl.com/ltmneal

Okay, I know, you don’t think of Walt Disney World as providing a nature experience, and in most of the parks you can find quiet spots, but no real solid contact with nature, but you actually can get a good “nature feeling” in spots of the Animal Kingdom, as long as you don’t mind sharing it with some other visitors.  And, thanks to the magic and resources of Disney, you can experience very different natural worlds within the same park.

On Discovery Island, near the Tree of Life, you can wander heavily landscaped trails that insulate you from the noises of the attractions and see a number of different animals (birds, mammals, marsupials, reptiles) from tropical lands along the way.  On the Kilimanjaro Safari, you’ll encounter, from a safe distance, African animals in re-created African habitats.  On the Maharajah Jungle Trek, you’ll encounter mammals (including tigers) and 50 species of birds from Asia along a heavily, tropically landscaped trail.

For animal encounters with less natural habitat, the Flights of Wonder bird show and the Conservation Station offer closer views of some other animals that are fun to see.

If you have extra disposable income, there are also some longer, behind the scenes tours that offer even closer looks at some of the animals, but I haven’t done those yet so I can’t offer any real insight into them, but I’d like to do them someday.

The biggest challenge of Animal Kingdom may be to ration your time between the rides and other attractions and these more sedate, nature-oriented places within the park, but if you do take some time to slow down and appreciate the masterful landscaping Disney has done at Animal Kingdom, you really can get a “nature fix” within the magic of Disney.