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Fruithaven Nature Preserve
For more than 50 years since William McKinley purchased 551 acres north of Upper Herring Lake in 1945, his family operated Fruithaven Orchard on a spread that was a mix of orchards, fields and forested ridges. When the McKinleys were ready to give up their agrarian way of life in the late 1990s, developers from southern Michigan made an offer to purchase the farm with plans to build a pair of 18-hole golf courses, hotel and an airstrip.
Sparing the area from commercial development was paramount to the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (GTRLC). The conservancy first convinced the family to apply for Purchase of Development Rights funds through the state of Michigan. But when the application process dragged on, GTRLC stepped in and purchased the property. Eventually, the development rights to 360 acres of farmland were sold to ensure the land stays in agricultural production. But 176 acres was designated as Fruithaven Forest Reserve, now known as Fruithaven Nature Preserve.
Fruithaven is linked with GTRLC’s Upper Herring Lake Nature Preserve — together they protect 256 acres of the Herring Lakes Watershed. Other than an old farm field and the hardwood wetlands in the Herring Creek floodplain, Fruithaven is a broken terrain of ridges and valleys covered by a mesic northern forest of predominately sugar maples, American beech and hemlocks. Wildlife that might be encountered ranges from whitetail deer and coyotes to wild turkeys, indigo buntings and pileated woodpeckers.
Originally, Fruithaven was accessed by nearly 2 miles of existing two-tracks. But the old forest roads were poorly marked, hard to follow and required backtracking. In 2014, a 0.7-mile loop was built from the trailhead on Herron Road that utilizes only a short segment of a two-track. While the loop features almost 100 feet in elevation, the climbs are gentle and reward hikers, and snowshoers, with a glimpse of the wetlands that Herring Creek flows through.
A well-marked path heads north into a narrow valley and within a couple hundred yards merges into a forested two-track from the east. The trail is level at the beginning but enclosed on both sides by nearly 100-foot high ridges, a sign of things to come.
At Mile 0.3, the trail veers off the two-track and immediately climbs the ridge to the west. The climb is gentle and gradual. You never reach the crest of the ridge but rather sidle the steep east side of it before the trail begins a steady descent to the trailhead. Along the way you pass a glimpse of the extensive Herring Creek wetlands if the foliage is not too thick and then pop out at the parking area at Mile 0.7.
There is an information sign and parking near the trailhead at Fruithaven Nature Preserve but no other facilities.
There is are no vehicle entry fees at Fruithaven. The nature preserve is open year-round.
From M-22, turn east on Herron Road (also labeled County Road 604) and within a mile the posted trailhead for Fruithaven Nature Preserve is on the north side of the road. From US-31, turn west on Mick Road, also labeled CR-604. Follow CR-604 for 5 miles to the trailhead. In the winter there can be significant snow accumulation in the parking area, so snowshoers occasionally park on the south side of Herron Road.
For more information, contact the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy at (231-929-7911; www.gtrlc.org).
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