Bow in the Clouds

Acquired: 2007 through a donation by the Sisters of St. Joseph, Congregation of St. Joseph 
Location: City of Kalamazoo 
Size: 60 acres 
Accessibility: Open to the public 
Trails: Easy trails from new parking area.  Boardwalk through wetland.  Click here for a GPS-ready pdf of the map below and experience a little wilderness within the city limits of Kalamazoo.

Or scan the QR code below to download the map directly to your smartphone. This is a GPS-ready pdf that works with many PDF Map Readers such as Avenza (which is free on the App Store or Google Play).

Although located within the Kalamazoo city limits, Bow in the Clouds Preserve has many wild corners where few humans will ever trod. That's because Bow in the Clouds boasts an extensive boardwalk system — approximately 1000 feet — which traverses a pristine stream and wetland. Visitors can pass with ease over terrain that would otherwise require a strenuous slog through boot-sucking muck and marsh grass.

Sister Virginia "Ginny" Jones has been the preserve's lead caretaker for most of 39 years, and she views the boardwalk as a rare concession to the forces of development.  She'd much rather see it become an increasingly wild place.  "We want to be part of nature, not masters of it," Sr. Ginny said.

The name Bow in the Clouds comes from the Bible (Genesis 9:13) where God set a "bow in the clouds" as a sign of the new covenant between Him and the earth.  The preserve property was once part of the Nazareth campus, a Catholic liberal arts college that closed in the early 1990s. Many of those who served there have become literally one with the landscape.  In an unadorned cemetery near the preserve's trailhead, neat rows of simple headstones mark the graves of nuns who lived and died as members of this faith community.

Sr. Ginny arrived at Nazareth in 1968 as an environmental science teacher.  At that time, the Sisters of St. Joseph broadened their ministry to include new social concerns, such as the environment.  Sr. Ginny helped host Kalamazoo's first Earth Day celebration, which was held at the campus in 1970.  As a teacher, Sr. Ginny used the preserve as a hands-on classroom, where students built trails and planted trees.  Bow in the Clouds Natural Area was dedicated in 1973.

As an aging religious order, the Congregation of St. Joseph lacked the people power to maintain a 60-acre nature preserve.  So after several years of negotiations, Bow in the Clouds was transferred to SWMLC in July of 2007 as Bow in the Clouds Preserve.  "We want the public to use it for what we call 're-creation,'" said Sr. Ginny.  "We know many people today are separated from religious tradition, and we respect that.  We also know that before formal religion existed, people encountered something of the holy in the natural world.  And that something — that peace, solitude and wisdom — is what we believe people can still find here."