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Beach-goers enjoy Esch Beach and the nearby Otter Creek at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

TRAVERSE CITY — Social distancing isn’t calling off outdoor fun in northern Michigan. Opportunities abound throughout the region to enjoy nature and welcome spring.

Biking, hiking and walking provide options for keeping physically and mentally fit while complying with COVID-19 social distancing recommendations.

Multi-use TART trails offer experiences in urban and natural settings.

“The entire TART network is over 100 miles. People can get out and explore,” said TART spokesperson Brian Beauchamp.

“Our office is closed, but trails are open.”

Trail conditions can change daily as spring evolves. Beauchamp said the TART Traverse City trail connecting to East Bay Township is now clear, as well as the Leelanau Trail recreational corridor to DeYoung Natural Area.

“It’s one of the ways people can get out of the house and exercise, he said. “It’s a community resource we encourage people to take advantage of.”

Spring beckons with opportunities to feed the senses. Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy’s 100 miles of trails wind through preserves in Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Manistee and Kalkaska counties.

Conservancy spokesperson Jennifer Jay said good early spring choices for trail experiences include Maple Bay Natural Area between Acme and Elk Rapids and Pelizzaril Natural Area, also located north of Traverse City.

“Both are large enough so people can maintain proper distance,” she said.

The Seven Bridges preserve in Kalkaska County sits along the Rapid River. It features a cluster of tributaries.

“There’s something so restorative about listening to the river and smelling the spring air — being outside in nature while maintaining distance,” Jay said. “Now, more than ever, I’m grateful to have protected lands people can go to.”

Other areas inspiring adventure include trails at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. While the park’s Visitor Center and museums are closed until further notice, its nearly 100 miles of trails remain open. The new Sleeping Bear free app provides maps and is available at the Apple App Store and Google Play.

Grass River Natural Area in Antrim County shuttered programming, but it’s 7 miles of trails along the Grass River are open to visitors.

The spring bird migration along Lake Michigan offers opportunities to witness the annual spectacle. Benzie Audubon field trip coordinator Doug Cook confirmed that the migration is underway.

He said Elberta and Arcadia marshes in Benzie County are hotspots for viewing arriving waterfowl of all types, including sea ducks and diving ducks, as well as migrating loons, sandhill cranes and great blue herons.

Benzie Audubon Club field trips on March 28, April 18 and 25 are open to anyone interested. “Normally we carpool and share binoculars. We’re not doing that now,” Cook said.

“Birders will meet at a site instead. We can all stand 6 feet apart and chat about what we’re seeing.”

Cook recommends Otter Creek at Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore for viewing arriving warblers and sparrows later in March.

Grand Traverse Audubon Club field trip leader Leonard Graf leads an expedition to Arcadia Marsh on April 18.

“What we see depends on the weather the week before and on the day,” he said. “Most likely we’ll see 10 species of waterfowl.”

A pair of binoculars opens a window into the world of birds, even in urban settings.

“One of the best places right now is Logan’s Landing,” Graf said. “There’s quite a diversity of ducks.”

Sleeping Bear Birding Trail follows the Lake Michigan coastline around Leelanau Peninsula for 123 miles.

It’s considered by many birders to be a birding paradise. The flyway route encompasses 35 top birding sites for self-guided experiences, including Elberta and Arcadia marshes and Otter Creek.

Check the complete list and recent bird sightings in Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau and Manistee counties at join an Audubon field trip, contact Leonard Graf at 231-946-5120 or Doug Cook at 231-930-8722.

“Our office is closed, but trails are open.” TART spokesperson Brian Beauchamp

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