When you think of getting out for some exercise in the Cadillac area, the favorite places are the White Pine Trail, the paths at the Carl T. Johnson Outdoor Center, the Clam River Greenway, and the Keith McKellop Walkway. But there are several other local nature preserves worth exploring. Great places to go if you are looking for some solitude because many don’t even know they exist.
The three trails – Waldeck Island Nature Preserve, the Carl T. Johnson Nature Preserve, and The Oliver Family Nature Preserve, all are owned by the Cadillac Area Land Conservancy (CALC) and are open to the public.
Explore the Trail Network Expansion at Johnson Preserve
Carl T. Johnson was a renowned bear hunter and founder of the Michigan Conservation Foundation. He bequeathed 40 acres to the Cadillac Rotary Club who gave it to CALC. The property, located off M-55 on 33rd Road near Benson Road, has a parking lot with another entrance off Joelle Drive. Over the last five years, volunteers from CALC and Boy Scout Troop 125 have created a mile of wood chipped path.
In 2022 the trail system was expanded and now includes 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 is more to the center of the Preserve and is about ¾ miles. The Prairie Loop is spur trail off the Hardwood Loop and measures about a quarter mile. CALC plans to put up trail maps marking the trails in the coming year. There is also access on the north side, coming off Valley Forge Road.
Along the Johnson route are several benches as well signage identifying trees and explaining conservation practices. 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 Johnson Preserve is virtually flat with no hills, making it accessible to all who like to walk, bike, run, cross country ski and snowshoe. On hot days, you’ll find plenty of shade beneath the forest of hardwoods that line the trail.
The preserve encompasses 11 acres and the trail length is just under ¾ miles.
Birders and Fall Color Abound at the Waldeck Island Preserve
Located at the northwest end of Stone Ledge Lake, the entrance to the Waldeck Preserve, is just off 43 Road. Here you’ll find a parking area and signage identifying the preserve. As you leave the parking lot on the trail, you’ll see the Hansen Viewing Platform which overlooks a large pond. In the spring and fall this wetland is a stopping off place for migrating waterfowl and seasonal home for blue herons, mallard ducks, and Canada geese. During peak color, I have come here to photograph the brilliant red and yellow foliage as the setting sun lights up the maple and birch.
Much of the hike follows a loop around the island which is heavily wooded offering plenty of shade and some energetic mosquitoes in the summer. The Conservancy has provided a couple benches for those wishing a take a break and enjoy views of Stone Ledge Lake.
Visit the National Forest Lands Through The Oliver Preserve
In 2014 Bud (Floyd) and Ann Oliver gave the Cadillac Area Land Conservancy a 15 acre parcel of land just east of the village of Harrietta on 30 ¼ Road (Boon Road). From the parking lot there’s a half-mile of marked trail. The trail skirts wetlands as it passes through a stand of red pine and and meadow lands. Flowing through the Preserve is stretch of Slagle Creek, home to brook trout. Leaving the trail at the north end, crossing the railroad tracks, you enter a 78-acre parcel of the Huron Manistee National Forest. Since this area of the National Forest has very limited public access, the Oliver Preserve enables the public to explore this tract of land.
Although these trails may not provide the challenges serious hikers find on the Manistee River Trail or walking stretches of the North Country Trail, the Oliver, Johnson, and Waldeck properties offer a close-to-home walk, that’s ideal for when time is limited and there’s just a need to get away to enjoy the outdoors.