Trail Ecology

In the summer of 2015, two biology students, Emily Mickus & Marie Bunker, conducted a Natural History Survey using local resources, online databases and on-site investigation. The goal of the survey was to integrate historical data related to the Arboretum with its current ecological state. The results of their report compromise the information we have on the trails of the Arboretum.

Wetland Boardwalk

The most recent addition to the LAA, the Wetland Boardwalk trail can be characterized as a wetland or marsh ecosystem. It has a high plant diversity and is home to many unique plant species. Few tall trees are seen on the Boardwalk, but woody shrubs and herbaceous plants are abundant. Due to the high diversity of the Boardwalk, a single dominant species does not stand out. However, some of the most common flowering plants seen are Boneset, Joe-Pye Weed, Buttonbush, and several types of Skullcaps. Common non-flowering plants include Common Cattail as well as several fern species. It is also noteworthy that the harmful Poison Sumac is found near the Boardwalk trail, and should be avoided. When on the Boardwalk, one is likely to hear the Common Yellowthroat. Keep an eye out for some of the more rare birds, such as the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, various woodpecker species, or the Red-Tailed Hawk. It is also common to spot dragonflies, butterflies, or other flying insects on this trail on sunny days!


The Powerline trail spans the length of the LAA. Because this trail is managed by the power company, it is characterized by shorter woody shrubs and herbaceous plants, with few tall trees that could interfere with the power line. The most common shrubs are members of the Rubus genus, which includes black raspberries, and blackberries, as well as other thorny shrubs with edible berries. Other common shrubs found along this trail are buttonbush and buckthorn. There is also a large abundance and diversity of flowering plants. Historical research shows that this trail likely went through several different farmed fields; this could account for the high plant diversity, which changes throughout discreet regions across the trail. Again, specific bug surveys were not done onPowerline, but similar to other fields in the Arboretum, aerial insects are frequently seen along the trail on sunny days, including dragonflies and damselflies, along with butterflies and moths. As the trail runs close to Bonnie Castle marsh for a large portion, water nesting birds can be heard, such as pied billed grebes, red winged blackbirds, herons, and cranes. On the sections of the trail that are near forested areas, woodthrush, woodpeckers, and other forest birds can be heard. The open nature of the trail also allows sightings of the Red-Tailed Hawk. The Powerline trail forms an edge ecosystem to many of the other micro habitats, which affords the opportunity for a lot of diversity in its flora and fauna.

Meadow Run

Meadow Run trail forms a distinct ecological unit, primarily because it was part of a single farmed field when the LAA was still Anderson Farm. This is indicated by the lack of forest encroachment into its two open fields (Monarch Waystation and Weather Station), as well as evidence of a fence that runs around various parts of the trail. Monarch Waystation is maintained as an ideal habitat for Monarch butterflies, and thus contains plants that are attractive to various species of butterflies, specifically Monarchs. These include milkweed, butterfly weed, various clovers and other flowering plants. The presence of Red Clover in this field and Weather Station, when it is not common elsewhere is the LAA, indicates that perhaps red clover was planted here to be harvested for hay, as this was common in Kalamazoo County when the Anderson Farm was in operation. The Weather Station field is slightly more overgrown, and contains additional flowering plants, such as Horse Nettle and several varieties of Nightshade and Sumac. In addition to the common field-dwelling aerial insects that were described on the previous trails, pitfall traps were set in these two fields to determine the diversity and abundance of ground insects, the detailed results of which can be found in Appendix 3. Birds common to this trail were the Grey Catbird, the Eastern Towhee and the Red Eyed Vireo

Old Field

The Old Field trail extends along the outside of Old Field, a prairie ecosystem consisting primarily of grasses and wildflowers. The trail includes woody growth along with various herbaceous plant species. It is common to see Enchanter’s Nightshade, Naked-flowered Tick Trefoil, Woodland Agrimony, and other wildflowers along the trail. Old Field itself has remained an open prairie except for several oak trees scattered throughout the field.  Both benches in Old Field are suitable areas to hear or see birds, such as the Eastern Towhee, Grey Catbird, and Eastern Wood-Pewee. It is also common to hear the distinct call of the Wood Thrush, a species whose habitat has declined greatly in recent years.  

Wood Frog

The Wood Frog trail extends along Batts Pond, an ecosystem that is considerably isolated from human development. Buttonbush is the dominant plant species in the pond, but many unique wetland plants, including Monkey Flower, Mild Water Pepper, and Yellow Pond Lily, also grow here. The top layer of Batts Pond is mostly covered in algae. The southern-most section of Wood Frog has many fallen pine trees from severe thunderstorm damage. The remainder of Wood Frog trail is characterized as a deciduous forest. Along the southern end of the trail there is a distinct gully that separates the pine forest from the deciduous forest. Standing on Batts Pond bridge, one will likely hear the Wood Thrush, Pewee, Towhee, and various woodpecker species. Through the use of mammal tracking traps, we determined that raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, and other rodents are present in the Wood Frog area.  

Magnificent Pines

The Magnificent Pines trail gets its name from the striking rows of pine trees lining the trail. Originally planted for logging, these pines now dominate the ecosystem and do not allow for much undergrowth. Still, keep an eye out for Herb Robert with its small pink flowers and the invasive, thorny Multiflora Rose. At the north end of the trail sits the Nella Langeland bench, named after the woman who previously owned the farmhouse. This provides a useful spot to listen for birds, particularly the Wood Thrush and Scarlet Tanager. At night, flying squirrels and owls are active in this area. Insect data were collected by means of pitfall traps.

Not-So-Magnificent Pines

Similar to the Magnificent Pines, the Not-So-Magnificent Pines were clearly planted for the purpose of logging. What distinguishes this trail from the Magnificent Pines is that there is more undergrowth and encroachment of deciduous tree species. Herbaceous plants on this trail include Enchanter’s Nightshade, Herb Robert, and Nipplewort.

Gathje Hill

Gathje Hill goes through an old-growth forest, including Oaks, Maples, and American Beech trees, as well as others. The trail runs next to a subdivision for part of its length, and ends where it connects to Marsh Woods. Evidence of barbed-wire fences and old gates from the time the area was farmed, as well as the age of the forest, indicate that this land was used as pasture for animals and was most likely not cleared for crops. Near the Powerline end of the trail there is a large patch of Spotted –Touch-Me-Nots, and Indian Pipe, Naked Flowered Tick Trefoil, and Wild Hog Peanut can also be found the length of this trail. This type of forest is home to Woodpeckers, Scarlet Tanagers, and Woodthrush.


Bobayundel trail forms half of the loop with Gathje Hill, connecting to Powerline in two different places, and, for the most part, travels through old growth, mixed deciduous forest. The exception to this is the area of the trail that was clearly planted as a pine plantation, with organized rows of pines similar to those in the Magnificent and Not-So-Magnificent Pines. This trail is one of the few places in the Arboretum that Spotted Wintergreen or Sweet Scented Bedstraw can be found, and also has patches of Indian Pipe. Birds that can be found here include the White Breasted Nuthatch and the Scarlet Tanager.

Marsh Woods

The Marsh Woods trail shares a three-way intersection with Bobayundel and Gathje Hill, then continues to run adjacent to the Bonnie Castle Marsh. This trail contains patches of Mayapple between the two benches overlooking the marsh, and has Enchanters Nightshade and Indian Pipe. There is also opportunity to see some interesting mushrooms growing near the marsh. On the benches which overlook the marsh, keep an eye out for Herons, Sandhill Cranes and Red Winged Blackbirds. In addition, forest birds, such as the Pileated Woodpecker, Trees Swallows, and Red Eyed Vireos, can be found.  

Bonnie Castle

The marsh that surrounds Bonnie Castle Lake is partially on the Arboretum property, and can be viewed from benches along Marsh Woods trail, as well as Bernie’s Landing  and Chestnut Point. The marsh is accessible by canoe, but difficult to navigate once on the water due to the large amount of buttonbush growing on the water, as well as the fact that the marsh rarely gets deeper than one or two feet. In addition to buttonbush, the marsh hosts two different types of lily, several types of smartweed and swamp loosestrife. Along the adjacent trails and on the water, large water birds such as herons and sandhill cranes can be seen, in addition to Red Winged Black Birds and mallards. There are several species of Dragonfly and Damselfly living in the marsh, and it has dense population of green frogs.

Chestnut Point

Chestnut Point is a short trail in the western corner of the LAA. It is characterized by mixed deciduous forest, containing mostly oaks and maples. Chestnut Point borders the Bonnie Castle marsh, and sources indicate that it was never farmed due to its swampy land, which could account for the large, old-growth oaks present here. Importantly, Chestnut Point is also home to the majority of the few American Chestnut trees in the Arboretum, a species whose population was decimated in the early 1900s, with few live trees remaining in North America. There is a short boardwalk on Chestnut Point that extends into the marsh, where swamp plant species and  birds can be observed. This is a good place to look for the Red-Tailed Hawk or the Sandhill Crane, as well as American Goldfinches, Woodpeckers, and various types of sparrows.

Entrance Trail/Parking Lot/Roadside

These three ecosystems can all be described as “disturbed” field areas, and showed similar plant species and diversity, which is why they are grouped together. While the stump dump is technically a similar ecosystem, most of the flowering plants found there were not in any other areas of the LAA, so it was kept separate from these three areas. Although they are disturbed, the parking lot, roadside and entrance trail contain many plants commonly found in prairie habitats such as Queen Ann’s Lace, Yarrow, Goldenrod, or Fleabane, amongst others.