Fred Russ Forest Park
Occasionally while standing on a bridge in Fred Russ Forest Park, and if your timing is right, you can watch small rings suddenly appear on the surface of a stream. What is remarkable isn’t that these are brown trout actively feeding during a hatch of emerging insects. What is really remarkable is where you’re watching this natural event. You are neither on the Au Sable River nor even in northern Michigan, but in Cass County, about as far south as you can drive in this state.
Located on a rural road between Dowagiac and Marcellus, Fred Russ is a 13-acre Cass County park surrounded by Michigan State University’s 580-acre Russ Forest Research Station. The entire area is laced by more than 4 miles of trails, open to hiking and cross-country skiing in the winter, while gently flowing through the middle of it is Dowagiac Creek, a Class A trout stream highly regarded among anglers for brown trout.
Even if you’re not into fishing, the rich history - on the edge of the forest is the historical Newton House built in the 1860s - and natural beauty make Fred Russ one of the most popular parks in Cass County. Among other things, Russ Forest is home of the largest tulip poplar tree in Michigan.
By combining Big Tree Loop and West Loop, you can enjoy a moderately easy walk of 3.2 miles that includes seeing the remnants of a giant tulip tree and, depending on the season, possibly even a trout or two rising to an insect hatch. You can shorten the hike to just 1.6 miles by hiking only Big Tree Loop or West Loop.
At one time the park was part of a farm, and a huge red barn still stands near the parking lot. Nearby is a display containing a third of what was once the largest tulip tree in Michigan. Known simply as the “Big Tree,” it was 200 feet tall with a girth of 23.6 feet when a violent storm blew it down in 1984. Big Tree Loop leads due south out to the rest of the trunk and its massive stump.
|Difficulty - Easy|