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Upper Macatawa Natural Area: 84th Avenue Loop
A 3-mile loop departs from the 84th Avenue trailhead that combines a portion of the paved Upper Macatawa Greenway and some of the natural area’s original hiking trails. This hike includes the most interesting terrain at Upper Macatawa as well as the scenic overlook that is perched above the park’s many ponds and wetlands. It’s well marked and easy to follow and during the spring and fall migrations would provide amble opportunities to spot birds and waterfowl.
The Greenway is a 10-feet wide path that in the beginning slopes gently up the ridge to the viewing point at no more than 5 percent grade to meet wheelchair accessibility requirements. A round trip to the scenic overlook is a mile. There is also a crossover spur that shortens the loop to 2 miles.
Upper Macatawa Greenway departs from near the information kiosk at the 84th Avenue trailhead and in a quarter of a mile crosses a long boardwalk between two wetlands and then sidles a third one. All three wetlands have occasionally patches of open water, especially in the spring, that allows you to search for waterfowl even if you’re not packing along binoculars.
Beyond the wetlands the paved path begins a gradual but steady ascent up the ridge that encloses the Upper Macatawa River floodplain, passing an unmarked junction and reaching the overlook at Mile 0.5. Three benches and its elevated perch makes it an ideal place to sit and gaze down at a handful of pools, the Macatawa River and the wetlands that surround them.
The Greenway continues north through grassy meadows and around stands of hardwoods. A level path leads to a junction with a crossover spur at Mile 0.9 and is close enough to I-196 you can hear semis rumbling by. Head right on the foot trail to shorten the loop to 2 miles. Head left on the Greenway to continue with this trek as the paved path continues north briefly and then swings east to descend off the ridge and enter the woods for the first time.
You remain on the Greenway for almost a half mile as it winds up and down the forested ridge, using three boardwalks to cross small ravines, before breaking out of the woods at a wetland pond. Here a natural surface foot trail heads south while the paved Greenway continues north around the pond.
At Mile 2 the hiking trail arrives at a junction with the crossover spur. Continue south as the hiking trail is soon paralleling the Upper Macatawa, looking like a sluggish creek, and then within a quarter mile swings away from the river towards the base of the ridge. You pass through two more junctions with hiking trails before returning to the Upper Macatawa Greenway at Mile 2.6. Backtrack along the paved trail to reach the 84th Avenue trailhead.
The trailhead parking areas are off 84th and 76th Avenues and feature parking, vault toilets and information kiosks.
The Upper Macatawa Natural Area is open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. from March through October 15 and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. the rest of the year. There are no vehicle or entry fees.
The Upper Macatawa Natural Area is located in Zeeland Township. To reach the 84th Avenue trailhead depart I-196 at exit 52 and head east on Adams Street and then north on 84th Avenue. The 76th Avenue trailhead is reached by departing I-196 at exit 55 and heading east on Byron Road on 76th Avenue.
Contact Ottawa County Parks and Recreation Commission at (616) 738-4810 or www.miottawa.org/parks.
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