Kehl Lake Natural Area
The 279-acre Kehl Lake Natural Area north of Northport features 2,500 feet of undeveloped shoreline along the 74-acre lake, paths that wander through an extensive hardwood-conifer swamps and excellent birding, including the opportunities to spot a blue-headed vireo or Blackburnian warbler. But for many visitors the most impressive sights are above them; old growth white pines and towering hemlocks whose needles and branches reach for the sky. Even the preserve’s “Old Birch”, whose branches hasn’t spouted foliage in years, makes you pause and wonder at its massive trunk.
The lake and the trees first captured the attention of Ottawa and Chippewa tribes who used the area for seasonal settlements and called it “Medahas-ah-eegan” or Leg Lake, a name still seen on maps today. In 1860s, John and Elizabeth Kehl arrived from Buffalo, New York and built a cabin and farmed a 160-acre homestead along the southern half of the lake. Eventually, Leg Lake became known as Kehl Lake.
But much of the area is a mixture of wetlands and lowland hardwoods and conifers surrounded by poorly drain soils, not well suited for farming and thus never disturbed. What attracted the Leelanau Conservancy were trees unaltered by human activity and the importance of Kehl Lake as part of a wildlife corridor that spans across the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, from Northport Bay to Cathead Bay, and Cathead Point to Lighthouse Point. Following the conservancy’s original purchase of 113-acre Kehl Farm in 1990 the preserve has been expanded three times to its current size in an effort to protect a corridor that includes three other conservancy parcels and Leelanau State Park.
Though some eastern white pines are estimated to be more than 200 years old, the trees are not the old growth giants seen elsewhere in Michigan as fluctuating water conditions never allowed any one species to dominate. The older white pines range 100 to 120 feet in height but feature huge trunks often three to four feet in diameter. Other species of impressive sizes include white cedar, hemlock, black spruce, beech, paper birch and sugar maple.
The trail system at Kehl Lake includes two loops; the 1.4-mile Outer Loop and the Old Birch Trail a loop of less than a mile from the trailhead, along with a crossover spur. This 2.1-mile hike is a combination of both loops and includes the Kehl Lake viewing dock. Most of the year the footing is dry but in early spring snow can linger in the woods and parts of the trail can be flooded with runoff.
|Difficulty - Easy|