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Shiawassee Wildlife Refuge: Cass River Trail
The Cass River Unit Trail is located in Bridgeport Township and is so close to I-75 that the interstate traffic is heard in the first half of the loop. The entire loop, including a short cross over spur totals only 1.5 miles and passes through the Cass River floodplain where there is little to no elevation gain.
The trail is not the most appealing choice for hike considering what is available in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge and elsewhere in Saginaw County. But it is amazing at times how much wildlife is seen in an area so close to a highway. That includes whitetail deer and even a small heron rockery.
Most of the trail is in the Cass River floodplain that can be too wet for hiking in spring and at times too bug-infested to be enjoyable in May and June.
The trailhead is reached from exit 144 of I-75 by heading west on Dixie Highway briefly and then turning south (left) on Tin Lizzy Lane just past the Cracker Barrel Restaurant. Follow Tin Lizzy Lane as it swings past the restaurant and then Baymont Inn motel to a large sign marking the entrance of the refuge. The road ends in the trailhead parking lot.
From the trailhead a mowed lane departs south into a field past a picnic shelter and underneath a power line before coming to the crossover spur in less than a quarter mile. The main loop continues south and enters an upland forest of beech, maple and other hardwood trees while staying within sight of I-75.
At one point you swing near a small marshy pond where a few heron nests sit high up in a dead tree. You can even quietly observe the nests from the trail if the bugs are not too bad.
Within a half mile you arrive at a low bluff above the Cass River where the muddy river bank below is often covered with deer tracks. This spot is also a fishing access site for bank anglers. Beyond here the trail becomes much narrow as it wings west to skirt the Cass River for a quarter mile.
Eventually you swing north and return to the upland forest before reaching the crossover spur a second time at Mile 1. The power line is passed underneath again and the trail arrives at a pair of maintenance buildings where you head right on the entrance drive to quickly reach the trailhead parking area.
Most trailheads feature parking areas, informational signs and restrooms. There are interpretive displays and information at the refuge headquarters on the Curtis Road.
Green Point Environmental Learning Center serves as the visitor center for the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge and has natural history displays, an observation area for birds and other wildlife and naturalist programs throughout the year.
Trails are open year round, seven days a week, during daylight hours only. During October and November trails may be closed for visitors' safety during hunting periods.
Green Point Environmental Learning Center is usually open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday when staff is available and the refuge headquarters is open 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The newly completed in 2013 Shiawassee Auto Tour is open June through September from sunrise to sunset and then from 1pm to sunset until October 25th.
From I-75, depart at exit 149 and head west on M-46 for 2 miles. After crossing the Tittabawassee River head south on Michigan Avenue and then turn left onto Maple Street. After passing a gold course, Maple Street swings west as Gabriel Road and the entrance to Green Point Environmental Learning Center is immediately reached.
For more information contact the Green Point Environmental Learning Center (989-759-1669) or the Refuge's website at http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Shiawassee.
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