Winter Hiking Tips

Posted on December 1, 2023

Winter gets a bad rap, especially when we're talking about spending time outside. And you know what? We totally get it. Frozen fingers do hurt. Gray skies are gloomy. But, before you batten down the hatches and vow to see the trees again next spring…read on.

First, let’s talk about some of the benefits of winter hiking.

-It comes with overwhelming peace and quiet, which can be a meditative, grounding experience that leaves you feeling more connected with the land…and often, yourself.
-It’s beautiful in a less conventional way, and you might be surprised what draws your attention. It can be fun to challenge yourself to find as many colors and textures as you can...and a good brain break from all the extra screen time.
-It can help relieve symptoms associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
-It’s good exercise! You burn more calories in cold weather.
-It builds resilience.
-It’s a great time of year to get into birding. With most of the leaves gone, birds are easier to spot.
-It’s much less buggy and sweaty.

Convinced? Make sure you’re prepared before you hit the trail.

Follow these tips to stay safe and comfortable.

1) Know the risks and prepare accordingly. 
Hypothermia, frostbite, and slipping on ice are a few of the potential hazards you could encounter during a cold weather hike. Chikaming Open Lands trails are relatively short, so while you shouldn't be exposed to the elements for too long, it's still important to be prepared in the event of an emergency. Hiking with a friend or letting someone know where you're going is always a good idea.

2) Dress appropriately.
-Wear loose layers. It might seem counterintuitive, but tightly layered clothing compresses together and conducts heat to the outside. Loose layers allow gaps of warm air to form between the layers, insulating your body. Remove layers as you warm up. Keeping the outer layer waterproof can help prevent you from getting wet.

-Avoid sweating. Once you stop moving/sweating, your clothing will get really cold, or even freeze. This is not only uncomfortable but potentially dangerous.

-Avoid cotton. Cotton holds water, making you much colder in the long run. Opt for wool or wool synthetic blends. Make sure to apply this rule to your socks too!

-A pair of fleece-lined gloves under your regular gloves can help keep your hands warm. It doesn’t hurt to keep an extra pair of socks and gloves on hand in case the ones you’re wearing get wet.

-Keep your head and neck covered.

-Snowshoes or traction devices can help with stability if it’s icy/snowy.

3) Stay hydrated and well-fed so your body has the energy to stay warm.
If you plan to be out for a longer period of time, make sure to pack snacks that won’t freeze. Keeping them close to your body (in a pocket, for example), can help keep them warm.

4) If you’re heading out later in the day, bring a headlamp or flashlight. 
The sun goes down much earlier now, and it’s easy to lose track of time. Again, our trails aren't terribly long, but it's easy to get turned around when it gets dark. Don’t rely on your phone flashlight; phones die more quickly in cold temperatures.

5) Review the trail map beforehand.
Anticipate that the trails might be more difficult than usual to navigate. Trail markers might be covered up, and snow and leaves can conceal the path.

Now, go forth and enjoy winter with confidence!

Future Moth or Future Meterologist?

Posted on November 3, 2023

Often referred to as “woolly bears” or “woolly worms,” caterpillars like the one pictured here are most commonly seen in late fall as they search for a spot to overwinter. Once they find a suitable log or bunch of leaf litter, they hunker down. Woolly bears are especially good at adapting to severely freezing winter weather and can withstand temperatures as low as -90 degrees Fahrenheit.

How Do They Survive Such Freezing Temperatures?
These insects produce a compound called glycerol that functions as organic antifreeze. While the caterpillars’ bodies will eventually freeze no matter what, the glycerol helps prevent ice crystals from forming within their cells, effectively keeping them alive. When the weather warms, they feed briefly before spinning cocoons and pupating. Come late spring/early summer, they emerge as adult Isabella tiger moths. After all that incredible super-survival, adults only live one to two weeks and die shortly after mating and laying eggs.

Woolly Worms As Weathermen
Their survival skills alone are pretty impressive, but these caterpillars are famous for a different reason—some people think they predict the severity of the upcoming winter. The width of their alternating bands of rust and black are said to signal how intense the weather will be during different parts of the season. According to the folklore, more rust generally means a milder winter. Wider black bands on their heads forecast a rough start to winter, while wider black bands on their backsides signal a harsh finale. Based on this “logic,” the caterpillar we found at Sugarwood Forest Preserve (the one pictured) is telling us that we’ll have a severe start to the season followed by mostly mild winter weather for the bulk of it. Judging by the narrow black posterior band, we’ll finish things up with one final bout of wicked weather. While that forecast is rather believable (especially given last Tuesday’s Halloween snow), this myth is easily debunked.

The Debunking
Woolly worms’ unique coloring is dependent on several factors: their age, how long they’ve been feeding, and how many times they’ve molted, to name a few. It’s also typical to find several woolly worms during the fall, and they don’t all look alike. Beyond that, some look-alike species are often confused for woolly worms, further polluting the predictions. Some look-alike species are entirely black, inspiring panic in those who infer that the worst winter in history is on its way. Other look-alike species appear entirely rust-colored, leaving diehard woolly worm watchers unprepared for the frigid temperatures to come.

Whatever you believe, remember that this is a Michigan winter we’re speculating about here... anything could happen.

Surprise! We love litter.

Posted on October 20, 2023

The fall colors are finally beginning to put on a show thanks to this week's cold, rainy weather! You can now officially take a walk along the gilded trails and watch as leaves gracefully glide to the forest floor. You’re likely observing the same occurrence at home, but maybe it’s a little less idyllic and a lot more annoying in that setting because of one key difference…THE YARD.

Do you find yourself experiencing dread as you witness what feels like millions of leaves piling up? Does the slippery, wet pile of mush sliding around under your feet elicit feelings of disgust? Have you been eyeballing your rake with a little more excitement than usual?

Good news—a minor shift in perspective could actually mean less work for you!

Work Smarter, Not Harder

The simple solution we speak of? Leave the leaves. That’s right…leave them right there on the ground. Actually, you can even feel good about leaving them there, because a host of insects and other wildlife need them to survive the winter. We know, a pile of dead leaves looks a lot like garbage. However, if you think beyond its outward appearance, that same ugly pile of leaves can be viewed as a warm home teeming with colorful life. Did you know that a variety of moths and showy butterflies could be inside that same old, boring pile of leaves? Luna moths and swallowtail butterflies disguise their cocoons and chrysalises as dried leaves. Red-banded hairstreaks feed on the dead leaves themselves. Mourning cloaks are one of the few butterflies that overwinter in the leaves as adults.

Leaf litter is also crucial for the survival of bumblebees. Newly mated queens are the only bees within their small colony that will survive the winter. They nestle just a couple of inches below the soil’s surface, and they rely on a layer of leaves to insulate their winter beds.

Not particularly passionate about insects? Other animals need leaves too. The Eastern box turtle, Michigan’s only true terrestrial turtle, is considered a threatened species in Michigan. Box turtles “brumate” (brumation is essentially hibernation for reptiles) below the soil’s surface during the winter. Like bumblebees, the leaves insulate the cold ground and help the turtles survive the freezing temperatures. Wood frogs and certain salamanders and toads are among some of the other animals that overwinter using leaves.

It Doesn’t Have To Be All or Nothing

We realize you may have heard this advice before, but maybe it didn’t resonate with you or seem feasible.

"What will the neighbors think? Aren’t leaves an eyesore? What about the grass?"

These are valid questions…no one wants to fight with the neighbors, and yes—leaving a thick layer of leaves all over your grass could smother it. So, how do you fit into the neighborhood while also creating habitat for wildlife? Compromise.

Even if you need to do some raking to get the leaves off of your lawn, moving the leaves around the base of trees, under bushes, in garden beds, or anywhere else you would traditionally use mulch is far better than simply raking them up and disposing of them. If you aren't willing to let your yard run completely wild, check out this article from the Xerces Society for other adaptive suggestions. Remember, little changes can go a long way!

9/29 AEP Transmission Line Update: Upcoming Town Hall Meetings

Posted on September 29, 2023

Upcoming Meetings:
Representatives from AEP and its subsidiary I&M will be visiting our area to continue the conversation about the New Buffalo - Bridgman Transmission Line Rebuild Project. They will be sending corporate officials along with a team of technicians and engineers to discuss a range of issues. The format will be town hall style with questions submitted prior to the meeting and an opportunity for an open Q&A exchange with the audiences. These meetings will be held on two consecutive nights. Live Virtual Town Hall access is available for both meetings via Zoom and is encouraged because of limited room capacity, especially for the Chikaming Township meeting.

Chikaming Township Meeting
Monday, October 9, 6:30 pm EDT
Location: Chikaming Township Hall
13535 Red Arrow Hwy., Harbert MI 49115
Zoom Meeting Link:

Village of Three Oaks Meeting
Tuesday, October 10, 6:30 pm EDT
Location: Three Oaks Elementary School
100 Oak Street, Three Oaks, MI 49128
Zoom Meeting Link:

Presentations will begin at 6:30 pm each night, and doors will open at 5:30 pm EDT. Zoom access will be available at 6:15 EDT. Community members can attend either (or both) meetings. While there is a high degree of overlap in the pre-submitted questions, some will be specifically directed to the issues of the host community. Please note, this is not a forum for questions about individual properties; it is for general questions about the project.

Project Update:
Since the Weko Beach meeting in June, AEP / I&M have responded with an amended project plan. You can read about those changes by clicking here.

Petition Update:
The Protect Our Townships Alliance (POTA) recently reached their goal of 1000 signatures on their petition for more community involvement in the decision-making related to this project. They are no longer actively seeking additional signatures.

We encourage you to visit or email for more information, to sign up for future updates from POTA, and to learn how you can help or be involved in the effort.

Spotted Lanternfly: "See It. Squish It. Report It."

Posted on September 22, 2023

Ahhhh, fall! Hayrides, comfy sweaters, bonfires, pumpkin spice…we could go on and on. However, with great coziness comes great responsibility. Late summer to early fall is not only totally dreamy... it's the prime time to be on the lookout for the spotted lanternfly, an invasive insect that has been found in 14 states, including Michigan.

What’s the big deal?
Spotted lanternflies feed on 70 species of trees (especially tree of heaven), vines, shrubs, and hardwoods. They can have negative impacts on specialty crops and cause disturbances in outdoor areas. These pests suck the sap out of plants and secrete a sticky substance called “honeydew,” which causes mold to form. The resulting sooty mold can kill plants and also attracts yellow jackets, ants, and flies. In some cases, swarms of spotted lanternflies have become nuisances just because of their vast quantity.

How do they spread?
While they can’t fly long distances, spotted lanternflies are known to be hitchhikers—they can lay eggs nearly anywhere, including on cars, trailers, firewood, outdoor equipment, etc. Because they’re invasive, spotted lanternflies don’t have any natural predators. So, once they are introduced to a new area, they’re likely to stick around.

What can you do?
The Michigan Invasive Species Program recently launched a campaign to help prevent the spread of the spotted lanternfly—"See it. Squish it. Report it."

This simple list of steps reminds Michigan residents and visitors to stay aware of the concern and help prevent new introductions of these harmful insects. Before you can pitch in to prevent the spread of these invasive pests, you’ll first have to learn what to look for and how to report them. Visit this page to learn how to identify spotted lanternflies in their various life stages and familiarize yourself with common "look-alike" species so you don't squish one of the good guys. Finally, bookmark this reporting form so it's easily accessible if you do happen to find yourself face-to-face with a spotted lanternfly.

Thank you so much for doing your part. Hopefully the changing leaves and fall flowers are the only eye-catching colors you spot this season!