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Arcadia Dunes

Mike Terrell - June 29th, 2009
Arcadia Dunes
Nature Preserve
Has Arrived

By Mike Terrell 6/29/09
Arcadia Dunes, in case you haven’t heard, is the latest completed natural
area along Lake Michigan’s coastal dunes.  It offers beautiful, secluded
trails that lead to panoramic overlooks and exploration of the 2,000-some
acres set aside for recreational use and hunting. 
The views are every bit as scenic as Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, and
more primitive without paved roads and trails; a plus for me.
About six years ago the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy brokered
a deal involving Natural Resource Trust Funds and private sector funds to
purchase the former CMS property, which at the time was the largest
undeveloped chunk of land left along the Lake Michigan coast. 
There was over 6,000 acres of critical coastal dunes, forests and
farmlands, including three miles of pristine undeveloped shoreline.  A
third of it was set aside for public recreational use. Much of the
farmland was placed under agricultural conservation easements, protecting
it in perpetuity, and has been made available to local farmers for
purchase and lease as farmland. Orchards are popular along the many
hillsides in the area, which drains the cold air into numerous valleys.
There are three trailheads along and just off M-22 north of the village of
Arcadia, and one trailhead off Joyfield Road on seasonal Swamp Road.  You
don’t actually go through a swamp before reaching the trailhead. 
The trailheads lead to about 20 miles of hiking and mountain biking
trails.  All trails are open to both, although the 10-mile Dry Hill loop
is the best for mountain biking.  The other loops are shorter, two and
three mile loops that are better for hiking.  The trails, all beautifully
designed, were laid out by the IMBA (International Mountain Biking
Association), and they work well for both cycling and hiking.
There are two trailheads on the Lake Michigan side of M-22 that offer
access to fairly short hikes leading back to Old Baldy, a dune blowout
that offers incredible dune scenery and panoramic overlooks of the rugged
Standing on top, you see a succession of tall, massive sand dunes
stretching endlessly up and down the shoreline, with endless forests
stretching inland and Lower Herring Lake in the distance.  Often you see
gulls below you riding thermal currents along the shoreline. 
I frequently see Great Lakes freighters chugging along – a few miles out –
following the coast; most of the time heading north. 
It’s a bit of a climb to get up to the top, but nothing like trying to
climb the Dunes at Sleeping Bear.  The hike back to Old Baldy is 1.7 miles
if you follow the longer scenic trail through the transitional forest that
forms below the backside of the dune, or just a little over a half-mile if
you follow the shorter, more open trail.   Both trails are fairly easy
hiking, just a difference in length. 
Once you reach Old Baldy, there is no mistaking it.  A wall of sand faces
you.  A narrow trail of sand cuts up the bank, and it’s about a 75 to
100-foot climb; not bad as dune climbs go. 
Once you’re up the initial climb, the view opens up.  Trails lead up to
the top of the blowout, or through a notch in the sand hill that leads to
an overlook of the lake and dunes stretching south. It’s an incredible
dune environment, and one that you’ll want to linger and enjoy; especially
after the climb up.
Across M-22, off St. Pierre Road, is the trailhead for the two-mile
Chestnut and 10-mile Dry Hill loops.  Both loops are open to hikers and
mountain bikers.  The two-mile trail is a microcosm of the longer trail,
and makes a better hiking trail just because of its length.  It doesn’t
cross any open meadows like the longer trail, offering views of orchards
and farm land.  It stays in deep woods after crossing the open meadow at
the trailhead.
The Dry Hill Trail is a great mountain bike 10-mile route.  It’s not an
easy ride with lots of long uphills, but offers some equally fun downhill
sections.  The trail flows nicely through the forest and across the open
meadows.  Taylor Road bisects the ride about the halfway point, and could
always be used for a bailout to get back to the trailhead parking lot. 
The first three miles is a lot of uphill.  You catch glimpses below you
through the trees of orchards along the hillsides and -- if the sun is
shining -- a sporadic glint from Upper Herring Lake.  Sometimes you can
spot a vehicle far below you moving along Joyfield Road. 
At around four miles, you climb out of the forest and into a huge open
meadow with a long downhill run.  Farm land and corn fields make an
appearance along the top of the ridge. After crossing Taylor Road the
first time – you cross it twice on the way back — the next five miles are
much like what you’ve just completed; a scenic combination of forested
hills, open meadows, orchards along the forest fringe, and a beautiful
Hikers can ‘spot’ cars at the point the trail first crosses Taylor Road,
and at Matzinger Road, which the Dry Hill Trail crosses about a mile
before it reaches the trailhead.  That would provide you with a nice
four-mile hike through a beautiful section of the trail.  You could cross
Taylor Road once more on the way back to Matzinger.
 Pete’s Woods Trail is a delightful two-mile hike through a heavily
forested area with moderate climbs.  You don’t realize how high you’ve
climbed along the easy hiking trail until you see some of the drop-offs
into deep ravines along the back part of the trail.  Surrounded by a tall
hardwood forest this is a beautiful hike in the fall.  Swamp Road, which
leads to Pete’s trailhead, takes off from Joyfield Road about
two-and-a-half miles east of M-22.
Arcadia Dunes has arrived.  The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy
is offering three different guided hikes this summer at the preserve. 
Old Baldy, Wednesdays July 22 and August 19; meet at the trailhead off
M-22 at 11 a.m.  Chestnut loop, Wednesdays July 1 and 29 and August 26;
meet at the St. Pierre trailhead at 11 a.m.  Pete’s Woods Trail,
Wednesdays July 8 and August 5; meet at the Swamp Road trailhead at 11
All hikes are free of charge, but the conservancy asks that you register
for the hikes by contacting Pam Hooker at 231-929-7911 or by email: They like to have an idea on how many hikers to expect,
and you can ask any questions you might have about the hikes at that time.
  You can also download an Arcadia Dunes trail map at  

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