ARCADIA, MI – This boardwalk in Northern Michigan offers a glimpse into a “rare jewel” coastal marsh that’s home to several endangered and threatened birds, uncommon wildflowers and fish.
Arcadia Marsh is a 305-acre nature preserve in northern Manistee County. It’s one of only 16 remaining coastal marshes on the Lake Michigan coast of the state’s Lower Peninsula.
A three-quarter mile, universally accessible boardwalk through the marsh opened in 2019. It’s known as one of the Top 10 birdwatching sites in Michigan.
Observant visitors will see a variety of flora and fauna, from belted kingfishers to northern harriers, marsh wrens and great egrets, and cattails, bonesets, great water docks and swamp milkweed.
“As one of the last remaining Great Lakes coastal marshes along the Lake Michigan coast, Arcadia Marsh is a rare jewel brimming with biodiversity and ecological significance,” according to the field guide by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, which manages the marsh.
There are two trailheads with access to the Arcadia Marsh boardwalk: St. Pierre Road and M-22. Find directions here. Users will walk from one end to the other and then back to their starting point.
Pack a small backpack with the necessities: water, binoculars, sunglasses and a camera. Hiking shoes aren’t necessary but go for practicality over fashion. Some visitors may also want to download the field guide, available here.
Strollers, wheelchairs and other mobility devices are welcome. No bikes. No dogs. There are no restrooms at the trailheads or along the boardwalk, so plan accordingly.
This trail is not a loop and there’s no destination. It’s simply about looking around and seeing 360-degrees of natural beauty.
Starting from the M-22 trailhead, a short gravel pathway lined with wildflowers leads out to the universally accessible boardwalk. Stepping out onto the walk reveals a panoramic view of the marsh with its waterways, plants, trees and scrub.
While it’s only three-quarters of a mile – a mile and a half round trip – don’t mistake this for a quick walk. Those who take time to slow down, take in the views, observe wildlife and read the interpretive signage will take an hour or more to traverse the marsh.
Tread lightly and slowly to see as much as possible.
The marsh is home to around 250 bird species – including 17 that are endangered, threatened or of special concern – more than 200 plant species and about 28 species of fish. Interpretive signage, including photos and identification, along the boardwalk helps walkers discern what they’re seeing.
Progressing east, the marsh gets thicker and thicker around the boardwalk. Plants and bushes overhang, and stinging nettles (they really do sting) reach out over the walkway. At the east end near the St. Pierre Road trailhead, there are tall trees and the environment begins to change, becoming more forest-like.
This reporter observed belted kingfishers, several great egrets and northern harriers, lots of small birds that were too quick to be identified, a monarch butterfly pollinating a boneset, and much more. It took about 90 minutes.
Approximately 80% of Michigan’s coastal marsh habitats have been destroyed. That makes Arcadia Marsh a rare ecosystem.
Of those that remain, many are plagued by invasive species and other problems, according to the field guide.
The effort to restore Arcadia Marsh took years of “intensive efforts,” including rerouting Bowen Creek to its original bed, removing invasive species and planting native seeds. Maintenance by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy and its partners is ongoing.
Hunting and fishing are allowed on the preserve, following rules set by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.