With the lockdown and restricted travel, many of us are discovering Michigan’s great little outdoor spots, where we can relax, decompress, breathe in some fresh air, and maybe even find an interesting story or two.   Sometimes, we find them right under our nose!   Last year, I learned of McCourtie Park near Jackson.    Earlier this Spring, it was Rawson’s King Mill Park, near Leonidas.

Last week, I discovered Wilder Creek Conservation Club, south of Marshall in Calhoun County.  I’d never heard of it, but it popped up in a search of area WPA projects in the 1930s.   I found that workers, mostly unemployed young men,  had built a stone castle on the property.   I was sick of sitting at my desk staring at a computer screen.  Twenty minutes later, I pulled through the gate at Wilder Creek.

Normally the gate is locked, but Dr. Jim Dobbins, a board member at the club, says they’ve opened it up to the public this summer.    The first thing your eyes are drawn to is the fantastic castle-like building on the creek.   “The WPA workers built it on the site in the mid-1930s,” said Dobbins.  “They took about 90 tons of stones from an existing structure between Homer and Concord and were shipped to the site through the efforts of Harold Brooks.”   Brooks was a local businessman and responsible for preserving more than a dozen historic buildings in Marshall and gave the Brooks Fountain to the city.  Dobbins says they fell 10% short on stones for the castle, so they used some from the foundation at the old Marengo Mill site, about six miles away.  The building is available for gatherings, in normal years.   Dobbins says the old key to the lock on the castle door weighed 7 pounds!   As you cross one of the  bridges across Wilder Creek to get to the castle, you’ll probably notice fish swimming below, mostly brown trout.

Wilder Creek Conservation Club-TSM Photo

Dobbins says another feature of Wilder Creek is the Wilder Creek Rearing Pond.  “In the great depression, a lot of people were out of work and out of money, so they went fishing to get food,” says Dobbins.   “After a short time, Michigan’s lakes were getting fished out, so the rearing pond was created to raise fish to restock the lakes and streams.”   The pond is still there, even though it isn’t used as a rearing pond.   Dobbins says they would drain the pond, scoop up the fish, put them in barrels, and ship them around the state.   He says there’s a large tube at one end of the pond, where they could move some boards and drain the pond.

There’s an old rail bed running next to the creek.  It used to be a Marshall to Homer rail line.  Now it’s a nature trail.

Just across the creek from the castle is a new picnic pavilion.   There’s plenty of room to social distance and enjoy lunch in the shade, next to a really beautiful spot.

A little further down the trail is an open field that was once used for skeet shooting, but now is used for archery.  Dobbins says one group holds an annual “primitive shoot” over the Memorial Day Weekend.  Nearby is a building that can be used for meetings or retreats.   There’s also a 1936 Totem Pole in the woods and an old well-house on the property.

Wilder Creek also has a large clubhouse, which was once a barracks at Fort Custer.  It was moved to the site many years ago and has recently been renovated.

Due to the pandemic, bathrooms are closed at the facility for safety reasons.

Dogs are not allowed!   Dobbins says that the club is home to beaver, dear, raccoons, muskrats, and other wildlife.   Dogs upset the ecosystem, so if you visit, please leave your dog home.

Dobbins says that ten or twelve years ago, the club was ready to close and deed the property over to the county.   But a local group set out to save it, to get kids and families outside more.  I highly suggest rounding up the family and paying a visit.   It’s open 9 am to 6 pm, and it’s expected that the board of directors will keep it open for the rest of the summer, and possibly into the fall.

So how do you get there?   From the Brooks Fountain in Marshall, head south on Old 27 to East Hughes Street and turn left (east).  It’ll turn into Homer Road and you’ll go past the Eaton Proving Grounds.   Look for D Drive South, and veer left.  You can’t miss it.   It’s less than 5 miles from the fountain.

Or just put the address in your phone:

Wilder Creek Conservation Club, 19833 D Drive South, Marshall, MI  49068

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