Access: open to the public
Acquisition: Bargain sale by George Hanus, 2001
Township: St. Joseph Charter
Parking: park in adjacent hardware store lot
Trails: 2/3 mile of easy trail along old railroad bed with side trails into forest. The trail links to another trail that leads to Lake Michigan.
From I-94, take Exit #27 (Niles Ave./M-63). Turn right (north) onto Niles Avenue and travel about 1 mile. Pull into the Ace Hardware parking lot on left (Eagle Point Harbor on right); the entrance to this linear preserve is at the back of the lot.
Most of the property is made up of a variety of wetlands in the floodplain of Hickory Creek, shortly before it flows into the St. Joseph River. Floodplain forest, shrub carr, cattail marsh, and disturbed wet meadow are found on the preserve. The floodplain forest is the most intact of the habitats with a rich understory of ferns, skunk cabbage, marsh marigolds, spicebush, and other wetland flora. The upland portion of the property is an oak hickory forest that slopes up to an old railroad bed. The understory includes some unusual spring wildflowers including dwarf ginseng and State Threatened prairie trillium. The power line openings near the railroad bed contain prairie and savanna species such as wild lupine, rough blazing star, little bluestem, big bluestem, and State Threatened white false indigo. State Threatened wild sweet potato grows along the border of the preserve as well. State special concern Eastern Box Turtles are regularly found on the preserve, including a 1-3 year old juvenile, providing evidence of successful breeding. The property is adjacent to the Knauf Township Park.
What was once a railroad bed and now power line corridor is a developing “greenway” trail that links other public open spaces to run from Lake Michigan along the St. Joseph River to Hickory Creek and beyond. SWMLC’s Hickory Creek Preserve protects both sides of Hickory Creek shortly before it flows into the St. Joseph River where, at certain times of the year, visitors can watch the salmon run.
The easy walking and biking trails along the edge of the preserve offer an opportunity to view a variety of habitats, including woodland, savanna, streams, marshes, and ponds. The variety of habitats makes for great wildlife viewing opportunities as well. Foxes, deer, butterflies, and all different types of birds (especially during spring migration) are regularly seen along the trails. Wildflowers bloom through the growing season, beginning with marsh marigolds and jack-in-the-pulpits in spring to wild lupine and butterfly milkweed in the summer, finishing with great fall displays of asters and goldenrods.