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Michigan Marvels: Kal-Haven Trail State Park

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The Kal-Haven Trail State Park is 33.5 miles of Michigan railroad history-turned-recreation paradise. 

The Kalamazoo & South Haven Railroad built the line in 1871, and for 100 years lumber and other goods were transported between the two cities. The line was abandoned in 1971 and talk of converting it into a rail-to-trail began a few years later. It was set to be opened in 1976, but opposition to the trail delayed the plan for years.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources acquired the land in 1987, and with help from the non-profit Friends of the Kal-Haven Trail Organization, developed and opened the trail in 1989. It is open year round and is popular with hikers, runners, cyclists, snowmobilers and cross-country skiers. 

The limestone and slag trail is marked by a shiny red caboose at the Kalamazoo end and extends gently downhill to a covered bridge spanning the Black River about a mile from the South Haven end. The trail passes through forests and farmland, blueberry fields, quaint small towns and towns that are no more. Much of the route is shrouded in trees making this a particularly popular trail in the fall.

It has been recognized as a Pure Michigan Designated Trail and in 2019 became the site for the Michigan Heritage Trail pilot project. Thirty-one informational panels line the trail and, combined with a mobile app, tell the cultural and geological history of the people and towns along the trail. 

Among the interesting panels is the one seven miles west of the Kalamazoo trailhead  telling an abbreviated history of the former town of Mentha. Who would've known that the mint capital of the world was once located in Van Buren County, Michigan? 

Bloomingdale marks the halfway point on the trail where many travelers stop for a rest or to take a tour of the Depot Museum.

The Donald F. Nichols Covered Bridge near the South Haven end is either the first or last highlight of the trail, depending on where you start. The 108-foot long bridge that spans the Black River was rebuilt from an existing trestle bridge during the rail to trail conversion. 

There are several places to enter and exit the well marked trail, making it easy to travel sections of the trail for those without the time or inclination to tackle the whole thing.