Visitors to the Center this winter will have the opportunity to be among the first to enjoy hiking the new Central Wetlands Loop. At nearly one mile, the loop combines familiar segments with new construction along the North Ravine, including access to the newly created Molly’s Pond. Though the loop is open now, it is not yet fully wheelchair accessible.
Path of the Central Wetlands Loop
Heading in a clockwise direction, the east and south sides of the loop cover familiar terrain: running along the top of the Lake Michigan bluff, past the pavilion, and around the southern perimeter of Mystery Lake. The path then veers north across the entrance road toward Teal Pond. The trail used to end at Teal Pond, a favorite for children looking for water creatures.
Now, a new boardwalk spans this semi-permanent pond and brings hikers to the rim of the North Ravine. This area was part of the Stormwater Wetland and Ravine Restoration Project, an extensive endeavor that, in simple terms, sculpted the upland terrain to better capture water and protect the North Ravine. Restoration in the project area afforded the opportunity to not only enhance affected habitats with native plantings, but to reroute trails through the area to provide visitors access to some of the Center’s most unique features.
Along with expanded access along the North Ravine rim, the trail crosses two new bridges, including passing over the new regenerative stormwater conveyance system. At the northern-most point of the trail, visitors encounter Molly’s Pond before turning south to follow the trail segment along the bluff.
Treasures to See on the Loop
Winter, with a blanket of snow, is hiding many of the treasures visitors will find while hiking the new Central Wetlands Loop. Visits in spring and summer will yield glimpses of prairie and ravine habitat carefully restored with more than 25,000 trees, shrubs, and plants. Trees such as bur oak, hackberry, and sugar maple, and shrubs such as pasture rose, elderberry, and meadowsweet, will provide nesting habitat and food for many bird species. In addition, leaf litter will be used as overwintering habitat for several bumblebee species. Pennsylvania sedge, marsh blazing star, and cardinal flower will provide beautiful blooms, while also being essential to many pollinator species.
Under the ice of Teal Pond and Molly’s Pond, an abundance of life also lies dormant until spring weather arrives. These fishless wetlands are essential breeding habitat for salamanders, small frogs, and toads. Many invertebrates, like crayfish and aquatic insects, also depend on these habitats.
Accessible Trails For All
Over the past several years, creation of accessible trails has been a priority for the Center. Our goal is to ensure that everyone has access to a variety of our ecosystems. Thanks to the support of the donor community, we have made excellent progress! But we still have more work to do. In addition to adding wheelchair accessibility to the Central Wetlands Loop, several other trail projects are slated for the next two years. These include a safe accessible trail route between the Welcome Booth and the Visitor Center.
We hope you can come experience this new loop soon!