Access: open to the public
Acquisition: The property was protected in 2011 through a bargain sale with former owner Dan Garvey and was supported through the generous efforts of Mary Wachman and Paul Devitt, and through grant support from the Joint Venture Initiative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
County: Van Buren
Parking: gravel lot
Trails: Featuring signed, easy-to-difficult hiking trails featuring several points of interest, one mile of frontage along the Black River, and another combined mile of frontage on three tributaries streams.
Watch the story of how Black River Preserve came to be:
From M-43: At the traffic circle at Maple Grove Corners, take CR-689 north to the T-stop at 8th Ave. Turn right (east) on 8th Ave, and look for the preserve on the south side. If you get to 68th St, you’ve gone too far.
From 196: Exit east onto Phoenix Rd. (exit #20). Take Phoenix Rd. about 1/2 mile to 71 1/2 St. Turn south onto 71 1/2 St. and go 1 mile to 8th Ave. Go east on 8th Ave, about 1 mile and look for the preserve entrance on the south side of the road.
Black River Preserve has 120 acres of heavily rolling southern mesic and southern floodplain forest with pockets of wet meadow and fallow upland fields that were once farmed. The property contains significant nesting and breeding habitat for a variety of waterfowl and waterbirds. Tributary ravines provide habitat for Louisiana Waterthrush and Hooded Warblers, and southern floodplain and mesic forest provides breeding and foraging habitat for prothonotary warblers, wood ducks, American woodcock and green herons, among other species.
• Botanical census finds that Black River Preserve has 400 plant species, 85% of which are native to Southwest Michigan!
• The preserve’s 60 acres of wetlands rank among the top wetlands in Van Buren County for the variety of water quality and wildlife habitat functions they provide. As a result, it is identified as a parcel of ‘greatest impact’ for water quality and quantity in the Black River Watershed Management Plan.
The Black River Preserve Story
SWMLC’s overarching goal for this preserve is to protect and restore vital riparian, wetland, and adjacent uplands along the Black River corridor. Since 2011, SWMLC has invested an enormous amount of time and relied on substantial volunteer effort to initiate restoration work. This includes removal of over a dozen dilapidated structures and foundations, completion of the first round of major restoration on the north ravine, and management of the preserve through the following practices: removal of woody invasive species, treatment of herbaceous invasives species, prescribed burns, selective thinning of overly shaded woodlands, erosion control prevention and repair, supplemental sowing of marginal upland pastures, and cleaning of old dumping areas.
Mainstem Trail, 3/4 mile, some hills: The most direct route through the preserve. Traverse the slopes of the north and middle ravine, crossing intermittent streams along the way. Make sure to stop at the “quiet spot” bridge, close your eyes, and listen! Look for cottonwood trees, milkweed, wild leek, and Eastern bluebirds.
Corral Trail, 2/3 mile, level grade: Loops through open meadow habitat with bird-friendly tree and shrub plantings. Look down slopes into the northern ravine and babbling stream. Look for bracken fern, goldenrod, butterfly weed, and Eastern phoebes.
River Trail, 2/3 mile total, some hills: MAY BE FLOODED DURING SEASONAL HIGH WATER EVENTS
Descend from sandy upland habitat down into river floodplains and marshes, walking along the Black River, and cross a meandering river tributary. Look for Rare green dragon plant, spring peepers, and belted kingfishers.
Two Ravines Trail, 2/3 mile, level grade: Walk a path between the middle and south ravines with plentiful vistas, encircling a young forest regrown after land was historically used for farming. Look for shagbark hickories, red-backed salamanders, and tulip poplars.
Overlook Trail, 1/3 mile, level grade: See both open oak habitat and beech maple forest while walking along north and middle ravine ridges, as well as overlooks of the floodplain from an east facing river bluff. Look for Little bluestem grass, spring beauties, barred owls, and Pennsylvania sedge.
Confluence Spur Trail, 1/5 mile, some hills: Descend into the south ravine at the far end of the preserve, traveling upstream through floodplain habitat and groundwater seeps to a confluence of two streams. Look for yellow birches, hemlocks, marsh marigold, and Blackburnian warblers.
Oxbow Trail, 1/2 mile, level grade: MAY BE FLOODED DURING SEASONAL HIGH WATER EVENTS
Meander under towering trees of an old growth river floodplain and step through the Black River’s past and present. Hike along “oxbows” — old river channels — as well as the current river course. Look for old growth beeches and sycamores, groves of paw paw trees, and pileated woodpeckers.