Early spring perfect time to explore near home

Published 9:08 am Tuesday, March 23, 2004

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- As temperatures begin to improve and spring flowers start to bloom, it is time for people to start getting out of their houses and local experts agree that Southwestern Michigan is the perfect place to do it.
There are great recreational opportunities both right here in the Niles area and also plenty of opportunities just a short drive away.
The Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council is encouraging people to get out and drive among the springtime blossoms in the coming months.
The council, located at 2300 Pipestone Rd. in Benton Harbor, has a free spring color tour map that recommends a number of different driving routes through Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties.
Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council officials said our area of Michigan is one of the few areas that can offer such a spectacular spring color tour.
According to a press release, "these seasonal tours of the countryside are much rarer in the Midwest simply because few communities can entice visitors with a seemingly endless patchwork quilt of pastel-colored trees, wildflowers and quaint Lake Michigan communities blanketed in brilliant tulips, impatiens, lilacs, and petunias. Yet such springtime beauty can be found a short drive away in Southwestern Michigan."
If you are looking to experience spring outside of your car, Matt Meersman, director of the Four Flags Area Council on Tourism, said there are a number of great things to do in the Niles area.
Fernwood Botanical Gardens and Nature Center is one of those opportunities right here in Niles and comes highly recommended by Meersman, who just got a membership to the nature center.
Fernwood, located at 13988 Range Line Rd., offers miles of winding trails through an ecologically diverse tract of land near the St. Joseph River.
Madeline Bertrand Park, a Berrien County park located in Niles, is another great spot to spend some time outdoors.
The park offers scenic picnic areas, wooded trails and some beautiful public park area along the St. Joseph River. One of the most popular features of the park is an 18 hole disc golf course that is renowned as one of the best in the Midwest.
Another Berrien County park, Love Creek County Park and Nature Center encompasses over 100 acres just outside of Berrien Springs.
The Berrien County Park Commission has a naturalist staff on hand at Love Creek with a number of outdoor education activities planned throughout the year.
With over six miles of trails, Love Creek is known as a spectacular place to view spring wildflowers.
Meersman also mentioned Arthur Dodd Memorial Park in Sumnerville (which opens April 1), Spafford Woods E.B. Lark Woods in Buchanan and Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary as three of our area's hidden gems.
Meersman, who used to own Niles Canoe and Outfitting, said canoeing, kayaking and tubing is another popular activity in the spring and summer months.
He said both the St. Joseph River and the Dowagiac River offer some great outdoor recreation right here in the Four Flags Area.
If you are looking to escape our area all together, there are many options within a day's driving distance to satisfy your needs.
Michelle Boyd, owner of Signal Travel, said Chicago is the most popular day trip destination with museums, zoos, theater, shopping and fine dining opportunities.
Boyd also mentioned Niles' proximity to Lake Michigan and said the coast offers popular destinations from St. Joseph all the way north to Traverse City.
And for those not interested in driving at all, Signal Travel, located at 219 E. Main St. in Niles, offers a number of featured day trips.
Boyd mentioned the popular motor coach trip to Holland for their 75th annual Tulip Festival in May and a day long trip that goes all the way the Milwaukee, Wisc. for the annual German Fest in July.
For anyone with their own spring travel plans, Boyd said Signal Travel can help with any booking or tourist information that you may need.
For more information on spring travel or activities, call Signal Travel at (269) 684-2886, the Four Flags Area Council on Tourism at (269) 684-7444 or the Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council at (269) 925-6301.