The Wilder Side of Oakland County
Cross-country skiing is perhaps one of the very best ways to embrace the wild and wonderful side of winter, especially with the abundant trails in Oakland County. Nordic skiing is not only great fun and easy to get the knack of, but this low-impact, nature-embracing, sport also relieves stress, increases endorphins and brightens moods. It’s a rare sight to encounter a cross-country skier scowling or frowning. Even after a spill, a smile quickly reappears, especially when enjoying the sport with friends. More likely than not, a cross-country ski adventure will leave you with a feeling of exhilaration and a darn good story to share. However, it is hard to partake in this calorie-burning, smile-inducing workout for all ages and fitness levels when Oakland County snow remains sadly lacking, and that is where this tale of two trail systems kicks off.
Last week I made sure to pack my cross-country skis and snowshoes as I set out for the Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs to partake in the annual Great Lakes Winter Trails Council. Their brochure is spot on, “With more than 35 beautifully-groomed kilometers of cross country delight weaving through the woods and wilds of Boyne Mountain, you’ll find plenty of room for exploration. Pack up the kids or rally your friends to sample everything we have to offer – from gentle trails through pine forests to technical terrain designed to test even the most dedicated Nordic skiers. Whatever your preference or ability level, our trails are ready for your tracks.”
The big surprise came as our Boyne Highlands Resort Cross-Country Center guide, Kathleen Leh, chatted just before leading us into a wonderful world of deep fresh powdery snow. Upon hearing I work for Oakland County Parks she excitedly asked if I have ever skied the Ted Gray Trail of Independence Oaks County Parks. “Yes” was my answer and I quickly added, “and survived”. She laughed as she explained she lived in Oakland County for 35 years, and cross-country skiing was the favorite winter activity she shared with her husband. “Jim and I skied every Oakland County Park, but our all-time favorite park was Independence Oaks and conquering the Ted Gray trail without wiping out. Leveled runs, groomed trails, friendly folks, ample parking, what’s not to like about this park?”
Leh is right in her assessment of Independence Oaks. The Ted Gray Trail, a loop trail that descends the side of a steep glacial moraine near the southwest corner of Crooked Lake is accessed from the 3.2 mile Springlake Loop Trail. Ted Gray Trail is a memory-maker on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.
All Oakland County Parks and Recreation areas (except Groveland Oaks and Lyon Oaks Golf Course) are open for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and hiking. Glen Oaks, Red Oaks, Springfield Oaks and White Lake Oaks golf courses do not have groomed trails or warming areas but are open to those with their own equipment when gates are open. Winter hiking is available on most trails in winter. Independence Oaks provides groomed ski trails, rental equipment and restroom facilities. Addison Oaks grooms the 2.5-mile Buhl Lake Trail for skiing. Highland Oaks, Orion Oaks, Lyon Oaks and Rose Oaks county parks are popular for skiing too. Be sure to check the Ski and Snowshoe Safety Tips information before you hit the trails!
Text and photos by Jonathan Schechter, Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Parks.