We recently visited Seven Bridges Nature Area which is managed by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.
I had heard of Seven Bridges but had never visited and I was excited to walk the trail and see all the bridges. As we started out on the trail, we could see the first bridge and as we approached it you could see what we assume to be the support structure for the original bridge. Two walls made of stones are along the riverbank and look to be helping support the new bridge. We walked down to the river and could see what I thought we heard from the bridge, a manmade dam with powerful water rushing over it. This bridge was the only bridge that was over the main part of the Rapid River that we crossed.
As we walked down the well-maintained trail the sound of running water surrounded us. The entire area was so beautiful and peaceful. At the fork in the trail are benches to get lost in your thoughts.
4 Bridges Crossed on to the next 3 Bridges
After we had crossed bridge #4 and walked a little the sound of water grew more distance and a meadow opened up for a short 1/3-mile loop. Surely, we would find another trail that would take us back towards the river and streams and the final 3 bridges.
We never found that trail and ended up back by our car and I noticed a trail going down to the river. Aha! So that is where the other 3 bridges were, but this trail just led to the river and did not really go anywhere else.
Why is it named seven bridges?
I needed to know! Once home, I Googled seven bridges looking for an answer. I could not find a definitive explanation for the missing 3 bridges. I did find what sounds like a logical reason for the missing bridges on the DNR site. History suggests that up to seven bridges were maintained on the property, others recall fewer bridges. It is possible, perhaps likely, that seven bridges existed on the property. This was dictated more by maintenance requirements than any need for seven crossings of the Rapid River. Not a very satisfying answer I know, but the only one I found.
While trying to solve the mystery of the missing 3 bridges, I did learn of the history and how it became owned by the State of Michigan.
Seven Bridges History
The Seven Bridges property was homesteaded by Jacob Rickers in 1868. In 1882, Jacob along with his four sons – Jacob, William, Carl and Julius – built a prosperous lumbering business on the land. A dam was built to create a holding pond for the logs. Today the remains of the dam (the stone walls mentioned previously) can still be seen when crossing the first three bridges.
All the Rickers brothers were eccentric bachelors who lived together all their lives. In 1944 Charles Peschke inherited the land from his Uncle Jacob. One of Charles children, Gordon Peschke loved the land. Gordon and his sons and grandsons built, maintained and replaced several rustic bridges crossing over the Rapid River and its tributaries.
From Sawmill to Nature Area
When the Peschke family inherited the land, they wanted to preserve the land. The family generously allowed visitors to enjoy the land. The bridges that were used to travel around the spill pond for the lumber operations were repaired and added to.
Gordon’s siblings enjoyed the property but none were as attached as he was. In the mid-80’s the sibling growing old and tax bills rising, the Peschke family reluctantly decided to sell. They tried to find a buyer who would preserve the property as is, but no offers came in. The state was not interested at that time. A Kalkaska based conservation group could only raise about half of the land’s appraised value. The land was purchased in 1989 with plans of developing 30 exclusive 10-acres private estates.
Because the property remained undeveloped after the sale, many locals did not know that the property had changed hands. In the summer of 1994 former Michigan first lady Helen Milliken and Virginia Sorenson and Lou Ann Taylor travelled to Seven Bridges. They went for the day and to enjoy a picnic and saw the surveyor stakes. Realizing what that meant, Virginia and Lou Ann who were on the board of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conversancy and pressed the GTRLC staff into action.
GTRLC Saves Seven Bridges from Developers
By December GTRLC had secured a purchase on the property. Hoping that the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund would grant money to the Michigan DNR and turn it into a public natural area. Request for funds was initially denied but in December 1995 The Trust fund approved a purchase grant. The understanding was that the State of Michigan would own the land and the GTRLC would care for it. Once the property was secure, GTRLC opened the natural area in 1998.
Gordon Peschke died in August of 1996, his beloved Seven Bridges forever protected for the public to enjoy.
The Jewel of Kalkaska
The property, locally known as the Jewel of Kalkaska County includes the Rapid River, a blue-ribbon trout stream. Several of the bridges remains can be seen along the Rapid River and it’s tributaries. We didn’t see them, then again we didn’t know to look for them. On my next trip I will be aware of the history and will look for signs of the other bridges.
The trail is only a mile long and easy to walk the stable ground and boardwalks. If you are in the area, stop and explore, it will be worth your time. If you find any signs of the other three bridges, please let me know!
Seven Bridges Natural Area location and trail map.