The southern end of the “trail” drive is in Buchanan. The downtown area preserves some of the old architecture and the historical district which showcases the importance of the waterways. Peer's Mill is the only one remaining of 13 mills that were on McCoy Creek. It operated via an overshot waterwheel that powered the grindstone to produce cornmeal. Today it is part of the historical district housing maps, photographs, and artifacts from the old days.


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Red Bud Trail Drive

Following the course of the St. Joseph River out of Buchanan, and then heading straight north, the Red Bud Trail is a short scenic drive is southwest Michigan. This is a drive that was created to encourage tourism. In 1934 the Civil Works Administration planted Red Bud Trees on this road from Berrien Springs to Buchanan. Though there has been development along the way it remains a beautiful drive in the warm months. This is a short drive, just a few miles, but there are some historic points of interest along the route as well as scenic turnouts overlooking the river.

tulip tree

Berrien Springs has the oldest county courthouse in Michigan, this building along with others is now a museum complex. As you drive south towards Buchanan the scenery is rolling farmland dotted with blueberry farms. Soon you come to the river and things get interesting. Just a few miles north of Buchanan there is an historical marker. The text explains that this area was known as Moccasin Bluff. This bluff, high above the St. Joseph River, was used by local tribes as a meeting or council site for centuries. Most of it was destroyed during the construction of the Red Bud Trail, but not all of it. There are two attractions near Moccasin Bluff that are worth a visit, Bear Cave and, a Tulip tree.

Bear Cave is a Tufa Cave. Tufa caves are karst formations created by water running over and through limestone, dissolving the soft limestone as it flows. This formation is the only cavern in lower Michigan. It is a small cave requiring only about 20 minutes from start to finish. Although a bit damp, the well-lit pathway through the cave is an easy walk. There are unusual features down there. Interpretive signs along the way explain what is at hand from a boulder left by glaciers to ancient fossils. At one point you encounter a low arch leading to a tunnel with standing water blocking the way. A sign is posted, “Do Not Enter”. Beyond the archway is a hidden room. There are niches carved into the walls. The story is told that runaway slaves on the “Underground Railroad” were hidden here. Bear Cave is open to the public in season.

After touring the cave, follow the boardwalk and cross the ravine to see the Tulip Tree that is inside an RV park. The tree is quite tall and has oddly twisted limbs. It is surrounded by a low brick wall for protection. There is a sign on the tree announcing that this enclosed spot is sacred ground to the Potawatomi Nation. As the tree grew, the natives manipulated its branches to create the twisted appearance. This process turned the tree into a marker for groups traveling on the river. It was a signal; they had arrived at the tribal council site. The Tulip Tree is just one of the “way sign trees” that remain in Michigan. There are many along the old trails on Beaver Island and some can be seen in Emmet County along the Tunnel of Trees.