Nine-mile trail loop offers scenic detour
The new Birch Grove trail is a nine-mile loop off the North Country Trail that allows hikers to enjoy the freedom to walk without having to backtrack or spot a second car. A shorter five- to six-mile loop also can be hiked.
The Birch Grove loop provides hikers with access to area attractions such as Loda Lake Wildflower Sanctuary, the NCTA Schoolhouse, which through-hikers can use as a shelter and Diamond Lake County Park. Day hikers can set out from any of a number of trailheads and return to their car. The Birch Grove route is marked with white blazes on trees. Blue blazes mark official sections of the North Country Trail. Where two blazes are found, the trail will take a turn.
The northern part of the route is scenic. The southern end of the loop runs through a former 1,017-acre Steelcase executive retreat known as Camp Swampy, which has since been acquired by The Nature Conservancy. Half of those have since been transferred to the Manistee National Forest, which expected to take possession of the rest this summer. Camping is permitted on any of the national forest lands.
"We tried to connect things of interest," said Paul Haan, of Grand Rapids, the volunteer trails manager for the Western Michigan Chapter of the North Country Trail Association. "The best features include Loda Lake Wildflower Sanctuary, a really nice bog on the south end of the trail, and Diamond Lake which has a public beach and people can camp there, too.
"Our intent was to create a loop big enough that people could make a short backpack of it and if it lent itself to a day hike then great."
This loop can be accessed from the Birch Grove NCTA School House. Turn west on 5 Mile Road off M-37 just north of White Cloud. Go to Felch and turn south. The schoolhouse is 0.1 mile on the left.
by Howard Meyerson
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