The cooling weather is no reason to put away your hiking boots. The gem that is Woodland Dunes Nature Center & Preserve is a delightful place to stretch your legs in the brisk air amidst hardwood and conifer forests, wetlands and prairies. And don’t let snow stop you; it’s a perfect spot to snowshoe. You can rent a pair at the Nature Center for $5 if you don’t have your own.

Head out for a fun and easy .3 mile family walk along Cattail Trail, a boardwalk that meanders through a shrub swamp, a sedge meadow and a cattail marsh where birds and wetland animals live or visit. Or tackle something a little more vigorous, like the preserve’s 2.25 mile segment of the Ice Age Trail.

The preserve is renowned for its 14 ridges and swales which are its geological foundation. These rare features began their formation more than 5,000 years ago when post-glacial Lake Nippissing (now Lake Michigan) was nearly 30 feet higher. Glacial ice had been blocking the escape of water from the lake, but as the ice melted and the water level fell, the shoreline of the lake moved south and east. At the shore, breaking waves scooped up and re-deposited the sandy bottom, forming a series of parallel underwater ridges and troughs. As the water surface fell, the ridges became long, low sand dunes, with the troughs or swales alternating between them. A rich forest composed of many plant and animal species eventually grew upon these features, providing a biologically rich habitat found in only two places (here and the nearby Point Beach State Forest) in our ecological region.

Besides the trails, the preserve offers activities and events for all ages: Raising a Wild Child preschool programs; stargazing; guided birding tours; night hikes; and lectures that will interest all citizen scientists. There’s even a 30-foot tower with a viewing scope overlooking the West Twin River (check out the osprey nest when the inhabitants are in it). Discover Woodland Dunes and discover your world.

Leave a comment