After a visit to Midland  in the 1970s, the vice president of the National Audubon Society called the Chippewa Nature Center (400 S. Badour Rd., 989/631-0830, www.chippewanaturecenter.com , visitor center 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Sat., 1–5 p.m. Sun., free) “one of the finest—if not the finest—private nature centers in the world.” More recently, the National Park Service cited the center for its outstanding educational accomplishments and designated it a National Environmental Study Area.
The 1,200-acre Chippewa Nature Center sits along the Pine River and was designed (not surprisingly) by Alden Dow to merge with the living world around it. Its most striking feature is the River Overlook, a 60-foot-long, glass-walled room cantilevered over the Pine River, with great views of the center’s birdlife and wildlife.
The Chippewa Nature Center offers an unusually rich mix of things to see, including an authentic log homestead, items discovered from on-site archaeological digs, and a display that’s a good all-around introduction to the area’s natural history. Other highlights include well-executed dioramas that show Michigan geology and scenes from the Saginaw Valley Indian culture.
Despite the wide range of attractions, the Chippewa Nature Center’s hallmark is the seclusion, peace, and beauty of its surroundings. A map available at the visitors center guides visitors through the 13-mile trail system that parallels the Chippewa River. Popular with hikers and cross-country skiers, the trails include artificially created wetlands, begun in 1990 to compensate for a wetlands destroyed to build a nearby shopping mall.