ARCADIA — A new boardwalk trail through one of Lake Michigan’s last remaining coastal marshes will open opportunity for experiencing the richness of flora and fauna tied to the region’s natural and cultural history.

Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy broke ground in November on the $1.2 million universally accessible trail through the 273-acre Arcadia Marsh Preserve in Manistee County. The three-quarter-mile-long trail has been years in planning and is part of the Conservancy’s $71.4 million Campaign for Generations for preserving area land, water, wildlife and beauty.

“We believe people need access to nature at all stages of life,” said Conservancy spokesman Jennifer Jay. “Access is for everyone — babies in strollers, grandmas in wheelchairs, those wounded in service to the country and anyone with mobility issues.”

The boardwalk follows an old railroad grade. It sits two feet above ground to accommodate fluctuating lake levels and to protect native plants and soil. Features include a clear path for hiking, bump-outs with benches, two observation platforms and two universally accessible fishing piers. Jay said interpretive signage along the trail will help people understand what makes a marsh important to water quality and what they view and experience at Arcadia Marsh.

It’s estimated that 80 percent of Great Lakes marshes no longer exist, according to the Conservancy. The Conservancy-managed Arcadia Marsh is one of only 16 remaining Lake Michigan coastal marshes in the Lower Peninsula.

“At Arcadia Marsh you can see the watershed rimmed by Arcadia Lake and flowing into Lake Michigan,” said Angie Lucas, the Conservancy’s senior land steward.

The marsh trailhead and parking sit off M-22 just south of the community of Arcadia. The productive ecosystem is home to mink, otter, muskrats and deer. It supports 235 bird species and is a hot spot along Sleeping Bear Birding Trail which spans the coastal migratory flyway along M-22. Audubon lists the marsh as one of Michigan’s top 10 birding sites. This fragile habitat provides feeding and nesting grounds for 17 species of endangered, threatened or bird species of concerns, as well as rare and threatened plants and 28 fish species.

“The boardwalk opens a new world for people,” said Manistee Audubon member and field guide Brian Allen. “Unless you’re kayaking, it’s hard to get to a place like this.”

Allen has monitored Arcadia Marsh bird life for more than five years. He said the elevated walk allows for seeing deeper into the habitat to experience “the mystery of the marsh.”

The Conservancy's marsh restoration efforts include a partnership with area tribes to restore the protected state-threatened Southern wild rice beds. “River” rice, indigenous to the Manistee area, served as a traditional Native American food source and remains historically important to tribal culture. It flourishes in the marsh’s shallow waters and slow currents. Lucas said Arcadia’s wild rice, known as “manoomin,” can be viewed from the trail.

Arcadia Marsh trail construction continues through winter. Opening is expected in spring before the nesting season. Trail closures may occur during certain highly sensitive bird nesting periods.