Acquisition: Donated by the Sisters of St. Joseph, 2007
Parking: gravel lot
Trails: Easy trails from new parking area. Boardwalk through wetland. Experience a little wilderness within the city limits of Kalamazoo!
Download a PDF trail map:
The preserve is on Nazareth Road (about one mile west of Sprinkle Road), behind Nazareth Campus (home of the Sisters of St. Joseph, 3427 Gull Rd.). From Gull Road, turn north onto Nazareth Road. The preserve entrance is about half a mile ahead on the left side of the road. Look for our old gray barn up off the road. It’s a steep drive along a sharp curve, so be careful coming and leaving. Pull in through the gate and park in the nice new parking lot.
The highlight of this preserve is the extensive spring fed wetlands that help protect the water quality of the City of Kalamazoo’s well fields just downstream. The wetlands are a diverse mix of sedge meadow, cattail marsh, wet meadow, shrub carr and swamp forest. The uplands are steep slopes with huge specimens of red, white, and black oaks.
Although located within the Kalamazoo city limits, Bow in the Clouds Preserve has many wild corners where few humans will ever trod. That’s because Bow in the Clouds boasts an extensive boardwalk system — approximately 1000 feet — which traverses a pristine stream and wetland. Visitors can pass with ease over terrain that would otherwise require a strenuous slog through boot-sucking muck and marsh grass.
Sister Virginia “Ginny” Jones has been the preserve’s lead caretaker for most of 39 years, and she views the boardwalk as a rare concession to the forces of development. She’d much rather see it become an increasingly wild place. “We want to be part of nature, not masters of it,” Sr. Ginny said.
The name Bow in the Clouds comes from the Bible (Genesis 9:13) where God set a “bow in the clouds” as a sign of the new covenant between Him and the earth. The preserve property was once part of the Nazareth campus, a Catholic liberal arts college that closed in the early 1990s. Many of those who served there have become literally one with the landscape. In an unadorned cemetery near the preserve’s trailhead, neat rows of simple headstones mark the graves of nuns who lived and died as members of this faith community.
Sr. Ginny arrived at Nazareth in 1968 as an environmental science teacher. At that time, the Sisters of St. Joseph broadened their ministry to include new social concerns, such as the environment. Sr. Ginny helped host Kalamazoo’s first Earth Day celebration, which was held at the campus in 1970. As a teacher, Sr. Ginny used the preserve as a hands-on classroom, where students built trails and planted trees. Bow in the Clouds Natural Area was dedicated in 1973.
As an aging religious order, the Congregation of St. Joseph lacked the people power to maintain a 60-acre nature preserve. So after several years of negotiations, Bow in the Clouds was transferred to SWMLC in July of 2007 as Bow in the Clouds Preserve. “We want the public to use it for what we call ‘re-creation,'” said Sr. Ginny. “We know many people today are separated from religious tradition, and we respect that. We also know that before formal religion existed, people encountered something of the holy in the natural world. And that something — that peace, solitude and wisdom — is what we believe people can still find here.”