Autumn is a time of transitions. We have just gotten back from Fall Break. Midterms are over. We are starting the second half of the semester, and we feel like time is on our side. Logically, we feel we have a little bit of extra time to spend doing whatever it is college kids do in their spare time. Right now, with the splendid weather and beautiful fall colors, one of the best things to do is visit the Albion College Whitehouse Nature Center. The Whitehouse Nature Center may not, at first, seem like it has a lot to offer, but if you’re looking for simple, natural beauty and an escape from the sometimes hectic college life, look no further than here.
River’s Edge trail
Having just recently undergone some intense trail maintenance, the River’s Edge trail is ready for you to explore. The River’s Edge trail is exactly what it sounds like— it follows the Kalamazoo River’s banks for about a half mile. However, it isn’t always what you might expect. While on the trail you pass through a few different landscapes, starting with a low, marshy terrain and moving up to higher ground with boulders and large deciduous trees (which I might add, are absolutely gorgeous with their fall color right now). Parts of this trail are very primitive and therefore have the beauty that accompanies such a landscape. While hiking this trail, with its river, boulders, tall trees and moss that seems to cling to everything, you’re almost reminded of certain scenes in The Lord of the Rings.
In other words, watch out for orcs.
Originally a railbed that serviced an electric railway that went through Albion, the Rail Trail is now a trail from which you can access almost all of the other trails off of, almost like a highway. You can turn off on different trail “exits” and then return to the Rail Trail. This allows you to explore multiple different trails on the same outing, while at the same time keeping you from getting lost (and nobody likes that), since most of the trails leading off the Rail Trail return to it as well. The Rail Trail cuts right through the heart of the nature center and dumps you out onto 29 1/2 mile road or the student farm. For this purpose alone, the Rail Trail is one of the most popular trails.
Throughout the nature center, you have an opportunity to observe a wide range of bird species. Along the River’s Edge Trail, you might spot the stately great blue heron, the regal kingfisher or the elusive wood duck.
If water isn’t really your thing never fear, birds have adapted to live other places as well. In the woods, along the Rail Trail and Ecology Trail, one has a good chance of seeing wood thrushes, warblers and woodpeckers, such as the pileated, the largest woodpecker in our area, sporting vibrant red plumage and a big mohawk-esque tuft of hair on its head.
If trees aren’t really your thing either, then you can also find bird life in the prairie areas of the nature center. Converted from past farmland, the prairie areas now serve as vital habitat for birds such as flickers, meadowlarks and wrens (in fact, you might see special bird houses that are designated wren houses, and which the biology department uses for research).
If you don’t like water, trees, or prairie settings, the Whitehouse Visitors’ Center has stuffed birds you can look at.
Wetlands and Student Farm
On the far west side of the nature center is the student farm and adjacent to that, a wetland area. The wetland area is actually a quarry and was a dump (that was known to contain 200 cars) before the college bought in the 1970s. The original plan was to continue to use it as a dump, but in a stroke of environmental luck, the decision was made to reclaim it and allow nature to take over.
Today, there is a wetland that can be found teeming with with all manner of life, including turtles, frogs, aquatic insects and waterfowl. South of here one can find the student farm, where students have grown greens, tomatoes, peppers, beans and squash.
In the non-vegetative category, there is also a hive of honey bees and plans to bring chickens to the farm as well. If you would like to experience the farm in its full effect, there is a fall fest on Sunday, Oct. 25. At the fest, you can get a free donut and cider. Yes, I said free.
To keep the nature center in the great condition, it requires a good deal of work by more people than the college can employ. What better way to gain some of those much-needed community service hours that working out-of-doors in the serenity of the nature center.
If you would like to volunteer at the nature center, opportunities are available for things such as trail maintenance, tree planting and invasive species removal on Oct. 22 and 29.
Photo by Evan Rieth