Not to be confused with the Carl T. Center Hunting and Fishing Museum and Heritage Park Trails located on the north side of Mitchell State Park near the Canal, the Carl T. Johnson Nature Preserve can be found a ½ mile south of M55 on 33rd Road near Benson Road. In 1997 Carl T. Johnson, renowned bear hunter and founder of the Michigan Conservation Foundation bequeathed 39 acres to the Cadillac Rotary Club. About half of the land had been used for growing alfalfa and corn and another 20 acres was a beautiful hardwoods. Before his death, Carl T. planted the farm fields to red pine and consulted with a local forester to conduct a conservative timber harvest of the hardwoods. However, the land, which had been purchased from Sam Swanson in the 1940s, was to remain in its current open and wild character. The Cadillac Rotary Club was reluctant to own land and after splitting the proceeds with the Cadillac Area Land Conservancy (CALC) from the timber sale that Carl T. had planned for, it donated the land to the Conservancy. This portion of the land today is maintained as a sustainable forest with a mix of hardwoods and conifers.
In 2018 volunteers from Cadillac Christian Reformed Church and Boy Scout Troop 125 created a mile of wood chipped path. Along the route are several benches as well as signage identifying trees and explaining conservation practices. At various points plaques with QR codes allow hikers with phones to access information about nature, tree identification, land forms, and the land’s history. Much of this effort was undertaken by Will Gullekson as part of his Boy Scout Eagle project. This is still a work in progress as plantings of native species vegetation are being added to fill in sections that used to be meadow and farmland.
The new path leads you through the tall pines at Johnson Preserve. Chris Gentry and Steve Cunningham hard at work last summer clearing the way for the new walking path. Photo credit: Cadillac Area Land Conservancy.
In 2022 the Cadillac Christian Reformed Church again hosted 40-50 teens from all over the United States and Canada. This group known as SERVE, does service projects. In 2018, and again last year, the kids from SERVE worked on developing a trail system through the Johnson land. Last summer they were there again, cutting a path through the pine forest when thunderstorms ended their effort. This fall, with a chainsaw and brush cutters, four CALC members, Chris Gentry, Steve Cunningham, Dan Valley, and Dave Foley finished the loop.
The trail system consists of 3 trails. Starting from the 33 Road parking area, the evergreen loop on the west side of the property is a mile in length. The hardwood loop on the west side is about ¾ miles. The prairie loop in the center measures about a quarter mile. CALC hopes to put up signage marking the trails in the coming year. There is also access on the north side, coming off Valley Forge Road.
The land is virtually flat with no hills making it accessible to all who like to walk, bike, run, walk, cross-country ski, and snowshoe.