About 12,000 years ago, the glaciers covering Michigan rolled back to the arctic, leaving behind a bare landscape called a Moraine, strewn with rounded boulders, piles of sand, and devoid of soil. Slowly the lichens and other pioneering species claimed the barren rocks and stabilized the soils. Following the lichens are mosses, insects, and small plants. These organisms then create the soil needed by trees and larger animals that eventually fill out an entire ecosystem.
Fox Science Preserve sits between Ann Arbor and Dexter in an old gravel quarry. The machines that dug deep into the soil are now gone, leaving behind a scene not too different from the glacial moraines of 12,000 years ago. This rocky and barren surface soon was recognized as a natural classroom for the study of biological succession. Teachers, students, and parents began exploring the boulders and limestone surfaces, observing as nature begins its transformation of the empty quarry into a fully functioning ecosystem.
The Fox Science Preserve, established in 2007, is a favorite of local science teachers. This 69-acre nature preserve provides a fascinating look back in history to the era when the glaciers retreated from Michigan.
- Scenery – 4
- Trail Condition – 3
- Quite/Solitude – 2
- Difficulty – 1
- Overall – 3
Whenever I hear that a location is an ex-gravel pit, my outlook is always set pretty low. Excavation pits tend to be little more than a hole in the ground with a groundwater lake in the bottom. What I found at Fox Nature Preserve far exceeded my expectations.
Starting at the back of the parking lot, a sloping trail leads back along the edge of a neighboring property into the woods. After a short walk through the trees, the path opens up into the preserve’s grasslands.
From there, the path leads through the center of the bouldered area and continues on to a set of small ponds at the north end of the park. These ponds host a lively population of minnows, frogs, and small birds and are well worth poking around. (Note – These ponds border on private property, so please remember to keep your distance).
The path through the preserve’s total length is only about a half-mile, but there are plenty of places to explore and climb throughout the area. There is also a loop off to the west that takes you around the central boulder features and is worth exploring.
Situated near the paths are educational placards explaining the history and science of what you see around you. Make sure to look closely at the limestone rocks and boulders for signs of fossils showing the animals that once lived here.
On the east side of the preserve is the remnant of the pit’s wall. Crumbling limestone has built up along the edge, creating a place for trees and bushes to begin to grow. As these trees grow, they will help develop better soils and enhance the diversity of the plants and animals living here.
I spent the afternoon exploring the rocks and cliffs and will be interested in returning over the years to see how the ecosystem continues to develop.
I would highly recommend Fox to anyone interested in natural science who wants to see nature in action.
Another Note – there is a driveway that passes through the preserve to a “land-locked” home to the east, please remember to respect their privacy.
Where is this?
Fox Science Preserve is located at 2228 Peters Rd, Ann Arbor, MI. To get there take the Zeeb Rd exit from i-94 and head north to Miller Rd. Take a right on to Miller then a Left on Peters Rd.
|Address||2228 Peters Rd, Ann Arbor, MI 48103|
|Trail Length||.5 Miles|
|Highlights||The features and botany of 12,000 years ago|
|Access||Unpaved Parking Lot|
|Accessibility||Trails are packed dirt or gravel. There are no large steps, but some terrain might be difficult to traverse.|
|Map||Fox Science Preserve Trail Map (PDF)|
|Best time to visit||Anytime|