The Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Michigan's Upper Peninsula is a prime place for wildlife watching in the state, and much of it is easily accessible to visitors of all ages and abilities.
Over 200 species of birds, two dozen species of fish and 50 different types of mammals, including beavers, moose, river otters, black bears and grey wolves make their home here.
The 95,238-acres wildlife refuge draws nearly 90,000 visitors each year. Most of them visit the eastern portion of the refuge and its seven-mile, one-way Marshland Wildlife Drive through wetlands and forests.
I've seen people buzz through the drive as quickly as they could without taking the time to really see anything along the way.
We take our time along this drive and usually manage to catch a few glimpses of loons, trumpeter swans and many other birds and water fowl along the way.
The Seney NWR sits on part of the old Great Manistique Swamp, but people arriving here in the late-19th and early-20th centuries tried to mold the swamp to suit their own uses.
Loggers heavily logged the area from about 1880 through 1910. Other settlers arrived later to drain the land and sell it to others on as good farmland. Farmers found the area too rugged and wet for farming and many of them abandoned the land, leaving behind little but unpaid tax bills.
In 1934, the Michigan Conservation Department suggested that the Federal government develop the area as a wildlife refuge, primarily for migratory birds.
In 1935, the refuge became a project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), like many other places in Michigan's Upper Peninsula during the mid-1930s.
CCC workers built a network of roads, dikes, canals and other water control structures to develop a wildlife habitat that with 7,000 acres of open water and 26 major man-made pools.
Today, nearly 2/3 of the refuge is wetland, although it still bears scars of its logging and failed faming past.
Most of the Seney NWR is managed wetland just off M-77 in Michigan's eastern Upper Peninsula, halfway between Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. The western portion of the refuge is a true wilderness and challenging to access.
The refuge became especially important as habitat and prime breeding area for some of Michigan's (and the Midwest's) most threatened birds species like loons and trumpeter swans.
A small portion of the refuge is about 80 miles further north at Whitefish Point, where a 53-acre tract of land attracts migratory birds like raptors, passerines and other water birds to rest and refuel before crossing Lake Superior to continue their migrations.
The Marshland Wildlife Trail is a particularly nice way to view the refuge. You can pull off along the road to stop for a while and visit one of the three wheelchair-accessible observation decks where spotting scopes to make it easier for all visitors to get a good look at the eagles, osprey, loons and trumpeter swans along the trail.
You may find yourself in a Seney-style traffic jam as the birds, which have the right-of-way, sometimes strut right down the middle of the road.
The best times for wildlife watching at the refuge are often in the spring, late summer or fall during the early morning or evening hours.
There are 10 miles of hiking and skiing trails within the refuge, ranging from easy trails to more challenging hikes or climbs. The Pine Ridge Nature Trail is a popular 1.4-mile hiking loop that starts from Seney's Visitor Center.
Check out the refuge Web site for links to brochures about Seney wildlife, history and activities.
There are exhibits about wildlife, the history of the refuge and other nature topics at the Visitor Center, which is open 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily from May 15 to October 20.
The Seney National Wildlife Refuge Facebook page recently reported that a light snow fell as the refuge and Marshland Wildlife Drive officially opened for the season earlier this month.
I love using my in-dash GPS when we travel, but I still like to have a good map when traveling in more remote areas like northern Michigan, so we usually have our Michigan Atlas and Gazetteer from Delorme with us on the road.
© Dominique King 2014 All rights reserved