As warm weather pays a visit and entertains staying, a trip to Western Michigan University’s Asylum Lake Preserve is a must. Leash up your dog or grab your bike and head over to explore 274 beautiful acres. The large expanse sits on the West fork of the Portage Creek Watershed, with parking off of Drake and Parkview roads. This passive-use recreation area has miles of hiking trails, lakes, and even a small river. Bring a picnic on a sunny afternoon, jog with friends or stroll underneath the huge canopy of trees snapping photographs of wildlife. It is a sure way to escape from the city for a few moments, get a breath of fresh air and reconnect with nature.
The preserve has an interesting history. In the summer of 1887, the Michigan Asylum for the Insane purchased the property from local families and established a Colony Farm and recreation experiment. Five cottages were constructed, as well as heating and water plants. Many of the buildings were connected by tunnels. After several decades of operation, the facility was phased out in 1969, after Congress passed the “Community Mental Health Center Act” which favored community mental health support over state institutionalization. In 1975, ownership was transferred from the State of Michigan to WMU. The university was expected to maintain the property as a public park, recreation area and/or open space.
In 1998, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation created the Asylum Lake Preservation Fund to help maintain the land for public use. It is managed by the Asylum Lake Policy and Management Council. There has been some development around the preserve, but the community remains adamant that the designated acreage remain a place where residents can go to enjoy nature. It is also used as a research area for WMU anthropology, biology, geography, hydrology and environmental students. Recently, the preserve was even used by the Kalamazoo Nature Center for their “No Child Left Inside” program, which allowed 140 third graders to participate in hands-on ecology lessons.
Swing on down and check out the magnificent Asylum Lake Preserve for yourself! It is a great place to walk your pooch or a visit with a friend. Enjoy some fresh air, exercise, and friendly Kalamazoo folk!
–Lindsey Hinkel, Contributing Writer