Did you ever take a walk in the woods and discover that you somehow felt better afterwards? More calm and peaceful, more centered, maybe even with a clearer mind?
The Japanese have explored this intangible feeling. They did a scientific study and came up with a new term to describe this phenomena, shinrin-yoku which means “forest bathing”--a short leisurely trip to the forest.
There is a perfect place for forest bathing in South Haven. Just south of town and directly north of Van Buren State Park, lies the North Point Park trail, also known as the North Point Conservation Area. The trailhead is just off Blue Star Highway on Ruggles Road where there is a small parking area – and it’s free.
If you desire some quiet time and a way to escape the heat (forests in the summer in Michigan are natural air conditioners), we suggest a quiet, meandering hike. The Japanese research revealed a number of health benefits of forest bathing. Turns out many trees actually release compounds called phytoncides into the air that have antibacterial and antifungal properties. You know that delightful, heady aroma that we experience in pine forests when we take a deep breath? That’s the phytoncides. Our white blood count activity increases in the presence of these natural chemicals and the research also discovered it lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and improves sleep.
While the trails are not marked, they are well-groomed and it is not likely you will get lost. You may end up back at the road further south where you can take a short walk back to your car, or you can head back up the trail and take the first fork to the right which will take you right back to from where you began.
The sandy, leaf-strewn trail muffles footsteps and the tree canopy blocks the sun. You’ll be walking through a climax beech/maple tree forest. At several points, the trail ends up at the top of a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan and the quick trip down to the beach, if you’re agile, is a quick run down. You’ll come upon some old stone columns that used to be part of a house overlooking the Lake if you take the trail that parallels the lake. The trail also passes by a wetland area home to frogs and turtles, and also mosquitoes, so remember the bug spray.
North Point Park has been maintained by local Boy Scout troops for many generations, actually commonly known in the area as “Old Boy Scout Camp.” A number of Eagle Scout Projects have focused on the area including the planting of indigenous trees, maintaining trails and installing erosion control measures.
Who knew that a simple walk in the woods could be so good for you? This hidden gem of seventeen forested acres quietly calls you to let the trees give you their healing bath.
About the Author
Nancy Backas has been writing, mostly about food, for more than 30 years. South Haven is a favorite place, and she and her husband Terry visit as often as they can. The rich food and art culture, along with opportunities to explore South Haven's magical natural surroundings is what draws she and her husband to SoHa. She looks forward to sharing her South Haven discoveries. And, while they currently live in Chicago, with moving plans in the works, South Haven will soon be their new home.