Anderson Woods trail monitors help keep the preserve accessible to all
In 2015, the Land Conservancy of West Michigan worked successfully with the local community to protect Anderson Woods Nature Preserve—73 acres of beautiful, contiguous forest in Muskegon County. The quiet, serene preserve provides important habitat for migratory birds and wildlife.
Because of the preserve’s gentle terrain, it presented a perfect opportunity to create a universally accessible trail. Once the property was protected, the Land Conservancy collaborated with Disability Network/West Michigan to design a trail made of “crusher fines”—crushed rock and limestone. The trail was built to allow those who are visually impaired or who are using wheelchairs, walkers and strollers to enjoy the benefits of spending time in a serene natural area.
This type of trail surface, however, requires diligent attention in terms of maintenance. That’s where the Anderson Woods trail monitoring crew comes in.
The Anderson Woods trail monitor group consists of 5 volunteers who commit to visiting Anderson Woods Nature Preserve at least once during their designated week each month. At each visit, they walk the southern loop and remove any debris or obstacles that might interfere with the trail’s accessibility. Volunteer Sandy Finkelstein shared her approach to the job:
“I try to think of it as, ‘If I was here in a wheelchair or in a mobility device, what would be in my way?’ and then try to move those things,” Sandy said. “Things like ferns growing up in the path, small sticks or branches, a few times there’s been things big enough where we go home and my husband grabs the chainsaw and takes care of that, if we can.”
If additional help is needed, the trail monitors are instructed to contact the Land Conservancy to arrange to have the obstacle taken care of.
Tim Franklyn is the preserve steward at Anderson Woods Nature Preserve and leads the trail monitoring volunteers. Franklyn used to work at a center for adults with developmental disabilities, many of whom used wheelchairs. One of his responsibilities was to find opportunities to get clients out into the community, and he said finding places where they could enjoy nature was not easy.
“For nature trails, it was slim pickings,” Tim said. “Usually there will be a token trail that’s just a very short distance, or there’s something right around the parking lot, if there’s anything at all.”
Franklyn said there were rarely opportunities to go deep into a natural area like Anderson Woods so that his clients could experience the unique peace and restoration that can offer.
“I think it’s pretty rare, and important because of that,” Tim said.
A trip to Anderson Woods Nature Preserve promises to leave visitors feeling restored. The shady forest is quiet, and isolated from busy roads and the sounds of civilization.
“I just love the serenity of it, the great stillness that you can find there. I love being immersed in the ferns and listening to the birdsong,” Tim said.
The preserve is never overrun with visitors, Sandy added, and most generally go there for a quiet walk.
“Everybody that goes is there to enjoy solitude in nature. It’s never a rowdy crowd,” Sandy said. “With the calmness, the quietness, you really get a chance to think while you’re walking.”
Both Tim and Sandy take pride in being able to help make this experience accessible to everyone.
“I just think that keeping natural places out there available for people to use is really important,” Sandy said. “It really isn’t taking a lot of my time, it’s not that difficult, but I feel really good about it.”
“This is just a really simple and enjoyable way to contribute to an environmental cause,” Tim said.
The Land Conservancy of West Michigan is grateful to Tim, Sandy and the rest of the Anderson Woods trail monitors for their continued stewardship of the universally accessible trail. Learn more about the preserve and download a trail map here.