I get the rare gift of doing what I love for a living - showing people my "playground" - the Shiawassee Flats. That's because I've owned and operated an adventure tour company, Johnny Panther Quest Adventure Tours, for over 20 years, taking people from all walks of life on all types of boating adventures. So, naturally, I get asked for my advice on when to go, what to wear, what to look for.
If you ask me when the best time is to go on a Johnny Panther Quest ecotour, I'd say, "When you are breathing!" But if you ask me when my favorite time is, I'd quickly tell you, "In the Spring!" Why Spring? Why not in the summer when the weather is warm and the sun is shining? Or why not fall when the leaves are changing? Because in Spring, the water may be high and the foliage may be down, but the bird migrations are sky-high.
There's simply no better time to get out and watch the world come to life around us than after a long winter of snow and hard water. The river courses can change dramatically from season to season, bringing a new nest or two, and you can sometimes smell the trees blooming and swear they've grown an inch since you passed them just hours ago.
The Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge and State Game Area are my playground. There are so many surreal places to savor the wildlife, serenity, and raw power that make up part of the largest watershed in Michigan, tucked smack-dab in the center of the Great Lakes Bay Region.
For me, there's nothing like watching Ma and Pa Eagle ferrying food to the young chicks or beaver battling strong currents to restock their stores. The ducks and geese can be deafening at times and it's not unusual to hear frogs chirping while there's still ice at the river's edge.
A spring ecotour adventure can sometimes be brisk, while other times the air is heavy as the sun's warm rays melt the frost off of the ground. No matter what the weather for your spring adventure, keep these helpful hints in mind:
- Dress warmly and in lots of layers, since temperature can often fluctuate as much as 40 degrees between sunrise and sunset in the Spring
- Comfortable boots, hats, cozy gloves, and a bag of warm gear are your best friend! But, rest assured - I carry backup gear for my guests in case they've packed a little too lightly!
- Sunscreen is never a bad idea; Even though there may still be a chill in the air, you'll want protection from the sun's rays
- Bring a picnic basket full of your favorites, and rehydrate with drinks that fit the weather.
- Cameras and binoculars can help immortalize even the most magical moments in the Shiawassee Flats (like majestic Eagles, or deer sipping straight from the riverbend.
When planning your trip, keep in mind that reservations are required. I like to get a feel for the unique style of each party I guide. If you want to rip ‘n tear and cover some serious territory, we'll go as far as the water and your sense of adventure will take us - perhaps a "marathon trip" from Saginaw to St. Charles and back!
For most, the classic 3-hour tour will give you a great experience and a good feel for one of the richest wildlife habitats in the state, surrounded by the beauty and serenity of what I affectionately call the "Everglades of Michigan."
The rivers usually open up around Mid-March and are swollen with melt water, so it's not too early to start planning your first adventure of the season. As the trees begin to pop, the currents and migrations slow down. By late May the eagle and hawk nests are nearly invisible. The adventure softens with warmer temperatures and slow currents.
If you want to get a feel for the experience, check out this footage of some past Spring Johnny Panther Quest Adventures.
As always, let your comfort zone be your guide as to when you book your tour, but for those looking for a true adventure trip to break the cabin fever, Spring really is THE BEST TIME to go!