WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
There is a pleasing oasis of green hidden away in the bustling urban world of the City of Madison Heights; a city that does not usually come to mind when thinking about trails, nature recreation, outdoor education, wildlife habitat or bird migration. Oakland County Parks and Recreation states correctly, “Red Oaks Nature Center is where imagination, creativity and education meet to create a unique outdoor experience year round.” Some might also claim a visit to the 38 acres of the nature center is for the birds, and they are right about that too.
The rich natural habitat includes a small man-made waterfall, mature trees, small wetlands, open grassy areas and abundant trail side shrubs. Small migratory birds, including many species of warblers and vireos use the site as a rest and feeding stop during both the spring and fall migration. Binocular toting birders frequently flock to Red Oaks to search out new species. Now that summer is here, many local residents, and families with young children and grandparents, will wander the paved 1.3 mile trail that meanders through the woods. Much to the delight of the children, small trailside creatures are abundant. Black squirrels, which are actually a color variation of the eastern gray squirrels, are common. Boisterous chipmunks scamper along downed trees while red squirrels peer down and chatter from overhead limbs.
The surprisingly diverse habitat for such a small areas includes large cottonwood and oak trees, and even tulip trees. Some of the trees have natural cavities that function as den sites for the red squirrels, woodpeckers, chickadees and bats. Blue Jays loudly announce their presence and muddy tracks across the trail give evidence of raccoons and opossums. Early morning visitors may even spot a deer in this urban sanctuary. Although the nature center is far from the true wilder side of Oakland County, don’t tell that to Red-tailed or Cooper’s Hawks. Both of these raptor species use the woodlands and adjacent suburban areas as their hunting habitat, and on occasion so does the red fox and the eastern coyote.
The entrance to the Red Oaks Nature Center and its hidden forested habitat, formerly known as the George W. Suarez Friendship Woods, is on Hale Road on the south side of 13 Mile Road, just west of Dequindre in the far southeastern corner of our county. The nature center and woods is part of the Red Oaks County Park complex on the north side of 13 Mile Road, a site that draws thousands with its popular wave pool, golf course and dog park. The nature center site includes a 2,400 square foot log cabin style nature center that offers programs for groups and individuals. The center was remodeled after Oakland County Parks assumed management back in 2012. Seasonal and interactive displays delight visitors and the naturalist staff shares lively information. Be sure to check the Oakland County Parks’ website for detailed information, hours and special programs including the great Butterfly Parade to be held on the second Saturday of July.
Heading to the Red Oaks Nature Center is not an up north wild land experience that requires planning, but it is a relaxing natural site to spend an hour or two, and for small children, it just may fuel their interest in nature’s way.
Jonathan Schechter is the Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Government and blogs weekly about nature’s way, trails, and wildlife on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.