Signs of spring on the Whitefish Chain

Looking for signs of spring? Look for trillium, a delicate white flower with three petals, surrounded by three leaves. It’s a spring ephemeral, meaning it’s one of the very first flowers to appear in the springtime. One of the best places to find it on the Whitefish Chain is on Big Island, just between Upper and Lower Whitefish lakes.

Trillium, a spring ephemeral, grows in abundance on Big Island on the Whitefish Chain. Photo by Mary Plein

Trillium, a spring ephemeral, grows in abundance on Big Island on the Whitefish Chain. Photo by Mary Plein

Big Island is one of three islands that are part of the Rollie Johnson Natural and Recreational Area. On Big Island you’ll find a self-guided nature trail aptly called the Trillium Trail for the presence of the spring flower that grows there.

Trillium flowers when it can take advantage of the abundant sunlight available before the leaves come out on the trees and form a thick canopy over the forest floor. With three white (or sometimes pink) petals, the flower is showy over a whorl of three leaves.  

There are several varieties of trillium. In the case of nodding trillium, you might spot the three green leaves before you see the flower, which can hang down below the leaves of the plant. Gently look under the leaves to see the snowy white flower hiding underneath.

Big Island, just as it begins to explode with spring greenery. Photo by John Plein

Big Island, just as it begins to explode with spring greenery. Photo by John Plein

The Trillium Trail on Big Island is fun and unique because it winds through an rare, old growth maple-basswood forest. While much of the area around the Whitefish Chain was logged at the turn of the 20th century, the islands that make up the Rollie Johnson Islands never were. Trees that tower over the forest floor are, in some cases, more than 150 years old. The island is also home to abundant wildlife, including loons, great blue herons, and more.

Camping on the island is free with a suggested donation to the joint powers group that maintains and manages the islands. The Islands are also a great place for a shore lunch when you need a break from your day of fishing, with several fire pits available. The hard sand-bottom beach is also a fun, natural area to swim on hot summer days.

To get to the Trillium Trail, pull up to Big Island at the sandy cove at the northeast side of the island. Some other areas are protected, so this is a safe place to land a boat without damaging shoreline. The trail head is located to the north side of the cove, and you’ll find a self-guided tour and plant information pamphlet in a kiosk next to the sign for the island. This is a great resource as you meander through the woods. Keep your eyes peeled for trillium and other abundant signs of spring. 

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