Look through any Traverse City visitors’ guide book for places to see during your stay, and nine times of out of ten, they’ll point you straight to Sleeping Bear Dunes. With its sweeping, majestic views from the dunes overlook and Caribbean blue waters of Lake Michigan below, it’s no wonder why this place nabs all the attention and glory from tourists and locals alike.
Yet, I’d like to turn your attention to one of my favorite places, Brown Bridge Quiet Area, a 1300 acre preserve just eleven miles south of downtown Traverse City and right in the heart of the Boardman River Watershed. The Boardman River plays an essential role in our watershed, supplying nearly a third of our surface water in Grand Traverse Bay. Starting in Kalkaska County and moving westward to Grand Traverse County, the river and its tributaries cross 160 miles before emptying into West Grand Traverse Bay. It’s also a robust economic asset to the region for its recreational opportunities. It’s estimated that this Michigan Natural and Blue Ribbon river draws in two million visitors annually.
The river is currently undergoing a historic initiative to restore a three mile segment through a series of dam removals. It’s one of the largest projects of its kind in Michigan, returning this majestic river to its natural path and historic flows. With the removal of the dams, there are now ample opportunities for kayakers, paddlers, and anglers to enjoy the water, uninterrupted in its flow.
Brown Bridge Quiet Area was one of the first segments of the Boardman River to undergo restoration. The river cuts right through the middle of this preserve, showcasing a diverse ecosystem for hikers to enjoy, from restored wetlands, cedar swamps, and pine, oak and tamarack forests. The trail system ranges from gentle paths along a ridge that provides a spectacular view of the river below, to some with moderately challenging elevation changes if you choose to trek down to the water’s edge.
I make my best effort to visit Brown Bridge every week. You’ll most likely find me out there on Sunday mornings (my “birch church” as cleverly coined by our own Liz Kirkwood), either hiking the trails with a camera in hand or parked on the river’s bank with a book. This place, just far enough removed from the bustle of “city life,” is a welcome refuge from the everyday realities that tug and weigh on the mind. When I come to Brown Bridge, it’s not just about the hike. This is my place to quiet the mind and refuel the spirit. It’s one of those rare places where time slows down instead of speeding up, and its passing is only apparent through careful observation of the sun tracing its arc in the sky. Anxiety and worries melt away with the sense of time, and suddenly, I’m reminded what it’s like to breathe deeply, fully, and intentionally.
As life becomes more and more removed from nature, it’s especially important to carve out time to be outside. We aren’t designed to be cooped up in offices, staring at screens and slumped over desks all day. Yet, that’s the reality for most of us. Find your place to counterbalance the daily digital onslaught. Meditate. Read. Walk with a friend and see what great conversations can be had. Just go outside. But don’t just take my word for it. Let NPR tell you all about the health benefits of “forest bathing.”
Accessibility to water and public lands is just one of the few reasons I choose to call northern Michigan my home. Where’s your favorite place to get outside to escape the daily grind? Share your favorite green and blue spaces in the Great Lakes Basin in the comments below!