I crossed another venue off my “Parks Bucket List” on August 8th. For several years, I have wanted to visit Crosswinds Marsh and Nature Preserve, in New Boston, Michigan, which is a 50-mile round trip from home.
Crosswinds is not one of the 13 Metroparks in this region. It is a county park and highly touted as being a go-to spot for everyone who likes nature. It is comprised of 1,050 acres of wetlands, which includes an open marsh, wet meadows, forested wetlands, and upland forests. There are one and a half miles (2.4 km) of wooden boardwalks that cross ponds and streams and seven miles (11 km) of hiking trails. What wooed me most was the opportunity to see 240 species of birds and 40 species of mammals and perhaps a chance sighting of the pair of nesting bald eagles who have lived at Crosswinds for over 20 years.
So, with a large bowl of oatmeal and a couple of cups of coffee under my belt, I drove there, eager to see all that this place had to offer. Admittedly, I could have picked a cooler day, but I went anyway.
The focal point of Crosswinds is the marsh.
I have followed Crosswinds Marsh on Facebook for several years. Although there have been almost no posts this year due to COVID-19, thus no interpretive programs, Jennifer Panek, the Park Manager, often posts tidbits of facts, plus photos of what she sees in and around Crosswinds in her daily walk. This could be snakes, turtles or even one or both of the pair of nesting bald eagles. What fascinated me the most were Jennifer’s photos of Great Egrets walking on lily pads looking for their next fish dinner.
The camera was ready and so was I, as I stepped up to the wooden overlook.
There is a looooooooooog wooden walkway that stretches across the marsh. Every picture online you see of Crosswinds features the shot you saw in the header image.
This is one of the additional wooden overlooks.
From the walkway, I peered into the water where it was wall-to-wall Pond Lilies. Unlike Lake Erie Metropark’s Water Lotuses that rise high into the air out of enormous leaves, these are smaller and daintier lilies that sit near the pads. Here are a few of them.
Though it was a hot day and the venue was a marsh, meaning it would be buggy, I still wasn’t keen on slapping on a lot of bug repellent while handling the camera, so I wore long pants and a long-sleeved shirt to thwart bug bites. Whew – it was already warmish and not even 9:00 a.m.!
I used my hand to shade my eyes when I noticed a white blur in the distance. I honed in and no, it was not a Great Egret, but a Mute Swan alternately gliding through the lily pads and diving for aquatic plants that flourish beneath the lily pads.
I stood on the wooden walkway, peering into the water intensely, figuring that lily pads equal frogs, right? No frogs, but there were lots of swallows flitting about and as I neared the wooden structure, swallows were either darting all over or sitting on the wooden railing.
You see the large wooden building which is at the end of the wooden overlook? This screened-in building with picnic tables inside is where interpretive programs are held, or you can just go in and catch your breath and step out of the searing sun if you’d like. I didn’t stop here, but just kept plugging along, keen on seeing as much as possible before the heat of mid-day.
Like a fork in the road, you had a choice which trail to choose.
So I hopped off the wooden walkway and opted for the Mallard Trail. It was short, just a half-mile …
… so I soon had to make another decision. Hoping to see one or both of the bald eagles, I chose the Bald Eagle Trail.
According to the trail map posted near the parking lot …
… this was a 1.80-mile (2.9 km) trail. It began on a boardwalk and ended up in a wooded area which was great as it cooled me off a little.
Along the way I ran into a scene reminiscent of the rock group ZZ Top. This is “Angel” sporting her very cool sunglasses and her owner, that I asked to pose with her, but didn’t get his name. We had a fun chat wherein he told me his last dog had 20 pair of sunglasses – Angel only has two pair.
It seemed all the humanity was at the marsh overlook and not too many people had ventured onto the trails. Then, amazingly there was another set of signs to choose which trail to go to next.
I was already about two miles away from the marshland area and began following behind a young couple – he was explaining to his female friend where the trail would eventually lead.
We chatted briefly and he told me he’d been to Crosswinds twice, but this was the first time for his friend. I said “first time for me too – I was enjoying your tutorial and I’m awaiting the next trail as I’ll tag along behind if you don’t mind.”
Well that idea fell flat, because the woman was not as enamored of the woodsy area as he was and he next asked if she’d like to go back. I saw a head shake, so there went my guided tour. I asked if he’d ever seen the bald eagles and he said “no, but go this way and you’ll enjoy the hike.” His suggested route was “go right, then left, then right all the way and that will take you back to where you started.” That trek sounded easy enough, so I thanked him and set off once again.
Oh no – I strayed off the beaten path big-time!!
Soon I would regret that impetuous decision to stray from the beaten path and go it alone. I actually ALWAYS make it a point to never go too far into a wooded area, unless I’m on a 5K walk or there are other people around.
So, just like the proverbial fork in the road, there was a fork in the path – hmmm. Though there were a flurry of signs leading FROM the marsh overlook to guide you to various trails, there were signs like this …
… sadly, none of them offered much direction to get back to square one and the last one was a wee bit disconcerting.
The trail meandered as I went along – for a while I’d be hiking through a shady woodland area which cooled me off, but then I’d go through areas of gravel road or dirt trails with the sun beating down on me. It was getting very hot, but I was more uncomfortable with the fact that I was lost than I was getting very warm and I never carry water. As I walked along, I hoped I’d see that wooden structure or one of the wooden overlooks – but all I saw were trees and trails.
As I went through the multiple meadows, there were wildflowers aplenty and butterflies flitted around my head and a few landed on the path as I walked which was kind of fun. And there were a few dragonflies and damselflies too. In between grumbling to myself about being lost, I appreciated these delicate creatures entertaining me, but was surprised that even common critters like squirrels or songbirds were nowhere to be found, leading me to blurt out to no one in particular: “where are those 240 species of birds, and 40 species of mammals that are supposed to be here?”
I spotted the “Horse Trail” signage and remembered that marker from the map and saw hoof prints leading into yet another trail. The Horse Trail is 4 1/2 miles (7.2 km) … well fine, if you’re astride a horse. Thankfully I am used to extra-long weekend treks, but I was not going down this trail and tacking on another 4 1/2 miles to my meanderings, even though this trail might take me back where I started. I soldiered on, though I was getting really hot and a couple of droplets of sweat slowly rolled from my forehead into my eyes stinging them. I thought maybe I’d remove the bandana face mask and fashion it into a sweatband, but thought better of that idea in case I ran into a crowd later.
So where in the heck was I and where was the *&%# marsh?
I finally saw a human – yay! Hopefully it was someone who was familiar with Crosswinds Marsh or had a smartphone with a map. Since I have a flip phone I had suddenly become quite needy. This was a runner and he kept running in place as he explained breathlessly that I should return the way I came from and go back to the “grassy cut” and I’d be good to go … I thanked him, apologized for making him break his momentum, then walked the suggested “3/4s of a mile” back where I just walked. (Sigh.) By then, in the hot sun, it felt more like twice that amount to walk, but I found the rather nondescript grassy cut.
I remembered seeing it before, but I was sticking to the trail, so just ignored it. I must tell you that initially there were wooden signs everywhere with the names of the trails and directional arrows on the signs, but out here in the boonies with the bugs, butterflies and blooms, there were no signs, especially back to the central area where the marsh was.
I went along the grassy cut only to see this sign about trespassing. Great, just great!
I was exasperated and next I saw a couple with a baby … I went over and said “I’m a little frustrated at still another fork in the road – can you tell me if you came from the marsh to get where you are now?” Yes, they had and suggested I turn left and follow that path and walk “about a mile and a half” and I’d be there. I thanked them profusely and said they set my mind at ease.
There must be some kind of way outta here!! (Channeling some Jimi Hendrix here.)
I walked, pausing to take a few shots of the many fields of wildflowers as well as individual wildflowers, as I still craned my neck to see the high overlook and wooden structure to no avail. I kept plodding along like an old horse on the trail, with considerably less spring in my step than had been when I stepped out of the car some three hours earlier.
Finally, a wooden walkway and some reeds poking through the slats gave me a sign of hope that indeed the marsh was near and a woman named “Sue” and her dog “Pepper” came up behind me as the walkway was quite narrow. I once again told my tale of getting lost and she said “no worries – Pepper and I walk here all the time and we know our way around. Did you want to return to the marsh or the parking lot?” I said “back to the marsh please – oh thank you soooo much!!” She said “that’s how I’m going – we can walk together if you’d like.” So, we walked at least another mile. I wondered how many miles I’d walked but my pedometer was under my shirt, hooked onto my pants and covered by my fanny pack and the camera bag.
Finally in the distance, the wooden structure was in view, rising high into the air. I breathed a sigh of relief and my comfort level increased immediately. Sue and I walked along companionably, chitchatting about the marsh and how many times she’d seen the eagles and told me that I “just have to return in the Fall to see the colors and the Canada Geese stepping across the marsh on the lily pads.” Finally we reached the entrance to the marsh where I also saw the second couple I’d asked for directions. They had taken a shorter trail – I, on the other hand, looked, and felt, like I’d walked the entire 1,050 acres of Crosswinds Marsh!
Sue, Pepper and I parted ways – I had one more stop to make.
Check out this interesting wild bee hotel.
If you Google Crosswinds Marsh you’re sure to see either the long wooden overlook and wooden building pictured above, or the entrance to the marsh area.
I wanted to visit this part of Crosswinds Marsh last since I figured the mid-day sun would bring out more butterflies. So, at the end of this very long trek, I stopped to view the “wild bee hotel” which was situated near that wide swath of colorful perennials.
The butterflies were also busy sipping nectar. I’d have stayed longer, but I just wanted to get back to the car and put the A/C on, cool off and sit down.
Finally, I plopped down on the car seat, pulled out the pedometer – a little over eight miles! It seemed like it should be double that amount. The perfect end to this long trek should have been a cool car before I drove home. But the A/C was on the fritz and it was horribly hot in the car. Talk about an inopportune time to need an air conditioning recharge!
Once home in the cool house, I conceded it was a long trip to get there, and getting lost was not fun, but I’m glad I went anyway.
P. S.: I had butterfly and wildflower photos, but left them out as this post is already picture laden and long – maybe down the road.