burial mounds trail, Michigan
As recently as the 1950s, travelers on the back roads in Michigan could spot old burial mounds left by bands of Native Americans. In Clinton County there, was a bread loaf shaped mound, just east of the corner of Airport Road and Howe Road that was visible from the roadway. Likewise, those traveling on small rivers and streams were likely to encounter these ancient burial sites. That part of Clinton County, through which flows the Maple River and its tributary creeks, contained a greater number of mounds than any other equal area in the state, except Newaygo County. Nearly all of these sacred spots have been lost due to agricultural activities or urban development. There are a few burial mounds that have been preserved, and a few have even survived by happenstance. A handful of those mounds can be found in the Rose Lake State Wildlife Nature Preserve.
Referred to locally as Rose Lake, the main entrance to this site is on Stoll Road. The nature preserve encompasses more than 4,000 acres of diverse habitat, wildlife, lakes, streams, and miles of trails. In addition to the main entrance, there are numerous other access points on several local roads. The entrance to what we call the Indian Mound Trail is found on Clark Road, in the extreme northwest corner of the preserve. The trail is unimproved, but it is an easy walk with only gentle elevation changes. There are no interpretive signs here, so knowing what to look for will help. After following the trail for a bit over a quarter of a mile, there is a large fallen tree with the root stock facing the trail. This is the best trail marker to alert hikers that the mounds are nearby.
As the trail begins to descend, there is a large mound off to the right. As with all of the ancient sites, this one is covered with trees, but the regular shape reveals its true nature. If you climb to the top, you will find a broad depression in the ground indicating that the burial chamber below has collapsed and the fill dirt has settled. If you turn and face back the way you came, you can see the effigy mound that most hikers never notice as they walk toward the hill mound. Effigy mounds are rare in Michigan. This one is fairly large, being more than 70 feet long. The mound is in the shape of a salamander with head, four legs and a tail. The tail is pointing down the trail we came in on, toward Chandler Swamp. This mound is difficult to make out if there is any undergrowth at all. The area is a heavily wooded and is divided by Mud Creek and the Chandler Swamp. Unless one has learned what to look for, the mounds can be extremely difficult to distinguish in the dense undergrowth.
The trail continues down a gentle slope to Chandler Marsh. If you follow the trail through the marsh you will arrive at Mud Creek, where there is usually a small log bridge. Cross the bridge and head at a tangent to the right. Up in the trees are more mounds, one of which is quite large, near the giant oak tree. The distance from the parking area to Mud Creek, is less than one half mile. This is a forest trail so there are not a lot of wildflowers. The creek and the marsh do attract a wide variety of wildlife and birds. This spot is secluded from the hustle and bustle of the main park area. Even on major weekends, it is not unusual to be completely alone here. The solitude and quiet invite one to pause and listen and be still.