Chippewa Run Natural Area
An ecological gem that serves at the “Gateway to Empire”
Years ago when a beloved parcel on the outskirts of Empire went up for sale, the community and the Leelanau Conservancy rallied to preserve this scenic buffer which protects the village’s small town character. The land takes in four separate ecosystems, and features a much-loved beaver pond and stream where brook trout spawn and where blue flag iris and cardinal flower grow in abundance. Chippewa Run is a birding paradise where dozens of species visit or live, including green herons which nest in the pine tree grove that was planted in 1953.
On a spring morning, you might hear 20 bird species singing, from the melodious meadow lark to the raucous red-winged blackbird, in this diverse, 110-acre Natural Area. Deer and turkey winter in the old apple orchard; the sand pit is home to a turtle nursery and brook trout live in the stream that runs through the property. The area’s treasured beaver dams have entertained generations of children (although the beaver are no longer around).
In summer 2007 our stewardship staff and volunteers created a gorgeous 1.5-mile trail system. It leads visitors through and around some of the property’s most interesting and beautiful natural features.
Along the stream corridor are native dogwood, black cherry, ash, maple, and poplar. The wildflowers found at Chip Run are among some of nature’s most dramatic: blue flag iris, cardinal flower and water lilies. The ecology of this area has changed over time. Ten years ago, the land around the stream and pond was submerged and hosted an active beaver community. There are few beavers right now, but they may return. Meanwhile, enjoy the mallards in the cattail marsh. Coyotes cruise this Natural Area too.
Green herons nest in the pines at the property’s south end. These trees were planted in 1953 when pine plantations were widely established to prevent erosion and start the reforestation process. The Leelanau Conservancy is currently thinning the trees to convert this mono-culture to a more wildlife-friendly habitat.
A Storied History
The creek here flows into South Bar Lake, a rich hunting and fishing ground with a history of Chippewa Indian encampments. Later, settlers planted orchards on both sides of the creek, as evidenced by cherry stumps in the old meadow and an apple orchard north of the creek.
The property has since passed through many hands. In the 1960s, Bill Dowsett created a beaver pond from what was originally a wetland. Scraps of wood in the field next to the parking area are remnants from when Jerry Decker processed camp wood here and sold it at D.H. Day Campground.
Originally known as the “Gateway to Empire”, this Natural Area was established in 2000, when it was at risk of becoming a housing development. Concerned citizens teamed up with the Conservancy to preserve this longstanding local treasure.
Chippewa Run Natural Area Access
110 Acres, Open to the Public
Spring Specialties: bird watching
Summer Surprises: blue flag iris, cardinal flower
Fall Fun: monarchs, colors along creek
Winter Wonders: snowshoeing, cross-country skiing
Explore a 1.25-mile trail here on an easy terrain. From the intersection on M-72 and M-22 in Empire, head north on M-22 about 7/10 of a mile. The parking area is located on the left, or northwest side of the street just south of the creek. In winter, if the parking lot on M-22 is not plowed, turn onto LaCore Street as if heading toward the Empire Museum. Then turn right on Fisher Street and follow signs to recycling bins. Park in recycling area where your docent will meet you or where you can begin your own hike.
“Chippewa Run has many different habitats, so it supports a wide variety of birds.”–Alice Van Zoeren, Docent
Plants at Chippewa Run
Click here to learn more about Chippewa Run High Quality Plant Species or view the entire Chippewa Run Floristic Quality Assessment outlining all plant species found on the property. COMING SOON!