ELBERTA — A challenging hike is on approach for outdoor adventurists who want to experience Lake Michigan sand dunes during the depths of winter.

Sally Manke, a volunteer with the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, will lead a group of hikers on a free trek at Green Point Dunes Nature Preserve. The event kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday at the preserve along Green Point Road, 2 miles south of Elberta in Benzie County.

Manke said there are two impressive scenic overlooks that will be included on the trek, parts of which should be expected to be strenuous. She said it includes a “challenging uphill trek through the cedars” on the Lake Michigan shoreline.

“Participants are encouraged to bring snowshoes but often (Yaktrax) or good hiking boots are sufficient,” she said.

Manke said those who attend the hike should bring their own winter gear, water and a snack for themselves to eat during the event.

Angie Lucas, a senior land steward for the conservancy, said the preserve is part of the largest freshwater dune system in the world. It includes open dune, a small section of boreal forest and mesic northern forest, a habitat type comprised of sugar maple, beech and eastern hemlock trees, she said.

“The nature preserve is special because it protects this large coastal hardwood forest and open dune, both of which are declining habitats in Michigan, and are listed as vulnerable on a statewide level,” Lucas said.

The open coastal dune system is considered extremely rare globally and it’s home to the state and federally protected Pitcher’s thistle which only grows on Lake Michigan coastal dunes. In fact, the preserve is considered to be ecologically very rare and extremely significant from a statewide perspective, Lucas said.

“In addition to the unique natural features, Green Point Dunes is worth visiting in the winter because of the quiet, peaceful nature of the forest, and then arriving at striking views of Lake Michigan and viewing a coastal dune system,” she said. “On the hike, people may see many species of woodpeckers, nuthatches, and other winter resident bird species. Large black cherry trees also grow along the trail, and are quite striking.”

The bottom of the stairs that go down to the Lake Michigan shoreline have washed away because of high water levels in recent months, so the staircase remains closed for safety reasons.

The event may be delayed or canceled via email in the event of bad weather, so participants are encouraged to register in advance by sending an email to jthroop@gtrlc.org. Any questions about the outing also can be emailed to that address.

Visit www.gtrlc.org online for more information about the site under the link for preserves and trails.

“The nature preserve is special because it protects this large coastal hardwood forest and open dune, both of which are declining habitats in Michigan, and are listed as vulnerable on a statewide level.” Angie Lucas, a senior land steward for Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy

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