10 Natural Areas You Can Visit for Free/Cheap Near Kalamazoo
People seem to be upset about this change coming to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Recently, it was reported by MLive.com that Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore would start charging an entry fee for the first time in its 55-year history. Along with the brand new visitor fees, fees for lighthouse visits and camping will also be increasing next year. The reasoning for the sudden change is that funding is needed for general park improvements. As far as pricing goes, here's what you can expect:
- $5 per person (which will increase to $10 in January of 2023)
- $20 for an annual pass (which will increase to $30 in 2023)
- Campground fees will increase from $20 to $25
The prices will gradually increase over a three-phase period. Read more here.
As is the case in every incident of a sudden change, some people were upset. Comments about the state of Michigan being greedy to protests against visiting Pictured Rocks were abundant.
Wanting to upkeep a very popular tourist attraction doesn't seem too far-fetched but, if you're looking for options that are either free or more affordable, southwest Michigan has plenty to offer.
Local Nature Preserves/Parks You Can Visit for Free
1. Asylum Lake Preserve
Asylum Lake Preserve is owned by Western Michigan University. It serves as a research area for students in biology, anthropology, and many other subjects as well as being a beautiful area that the public can enjoy. According to their website, they're currently working to create a trail system that would be accessible to those who are handicapped as well. Read more here.
2. Al Sabo Land Preserve
Al Sabo Land Preserve is a 741-acre preserve in Texas Charter Township. It was purchased by the city of Kalamazoo to protect the groundwater supply. It offers about 25 miles of trails some of which are open to bicycles. It's free to attend but, from personal experience, it can be a bit sandy. Make sure to wear proper footwear. Read more about the history of Al Sabo Land Preserve here.
3. Spring Valley Park
Spring Valley Park sits on Mt. Olivet Road in Kalamazoo. While it's less of a nature preserve and more of a park, it's one of the city's largest parks. It has over 3 miles of trails, playgrounds for the kids, and a disc golf course that extends throughout the park. See more here.
4. Eliason Nature Preserve
This 123-acre property was donated to the city of Portage in 2011. As far as non-motorized trails go, there's one that's 1.6 miles long. Pets are welcome as long as they're leashed. Read more here.
5. Kleinstuck Nature Preserve
Also owned and managed by Western Michigan University, Kleinstuck Nature Preserve is 48-acres and is considered one of Kalamazoo's few remaining open spaces. It's a unique area because it includes swamp forests, marshlands, and upland forests all in one area. It's open to the public for passive recreational use and dogs are allowed as long as they're on a leash. Read more here.
Local State Parks You Can Visit with a Recreation Passport
Recreation Passports are very affordable at $12 to $17 depending on when and where you purchase them. If you're at the Secretary of State office to renew the registration on your vehicle, purchasing the passport will cost $12. If you purchase your passport at a state park it'll cost you $17. You can read more about where and how to purchase Recreation Passports here.
Once you've acquired your passport, you can visit any of these locations:
1. Grand Mere State Park
This State Park sits on the shore of Lake Michigan just south of Benton Harbor. Be prepared to hike over sand dunes as you make your way to the water. This park also has two inland lakes and a paved trail that's just short of a mile. Read more here.
2. Van Buren State Park
Van Buren State Park is open to hikers as well as campers however, their modern campground is closed for renovations until July of 2022, according to their website. The park sits on Lake Michigan's shore, offers a mile of sandy beach, and access to the Van Buren State Park Spur Trail. Read more here.
3. Fort Custer Recreation Area
Just down the road from Kalamazoo in Augusta is Fort Custer Recreation Area. This space is huge. Sitting on 3,038 acres of land, Fort Custer includes three lakes, the Kalamazoo River, and more than 40 miles of trails. If you're planning on camping, there are currently some electric issues as well as ongoing renovations. Read more here.
4. Saugatuck Dunes State Park
Another State Park that sits on Lake Michigan, Saugatuck Dunes has 13 miles of trails and includes the 300-acre Patty Birkholz Natural Area as well as forested areas and beach access. Read more here.
5. Yankee Springs Recreation Area
Just up the road from Kalamazoo is Yankee Springs Recreation Area. Yankee Springs is described as having rugged terrain and has something for everyone. There are 30 miles of hiking trails, 12 miles of mountain bike trails, 10 miles of horseback trails, and a lot more. There are a few "special" points of interest which you can read more about here.
Understandably, the new visitor charge at the very popular Pictured Rocks can be disappointing to those who weren't expecting it. But, as you can see, we have plenty of natural areas near Kalamazoo that are waiting to be explored.
Unlike this weird attraction that you should NOT explore under any circumstance. Thankfully, someone was given permission to snap a few photos so we can explore from the comfort of our homes: