October Gold: Secrets of the Kensington Nature Center Trails



“Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, waterbugs, tadpoles, frogs & turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, hickory nuts, trees to climb, animals to pet, hayfields, pine cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets – and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of his education.” – Luther Burbank, 1849 – 1926


The child-friendly trails of the Kensington Metropark Nature Center would bring a smile to Burbank if he was alive today. He was an inquisitive botanist and plant scientist that understood the importance of early life exposure to nature’s way.  He authored, “The Training of the Human Plant,” over 100 years ago, in 1907.


Sandhill Crane Strutting the Nature Trail

On these early days of autumn, aspen leaves crackle in gentle winds, tamarack trees turn smoky gold and wetland-loving poison sumac shrubs dress in scarlet. The seven miles of natural surface trails at Kensington have a special quiet beauty that is unique to October.

The trails can be accessed from a common trail-head at the nature center, which is also a great place to pick up information, maps and birdseed before you hike. Autumn colors and forest scents attract hundreds to these peaceful trails; including some visitors that are looking to be rewarded with a friendly chickadee landing in their hands.

Black-Capped Chickadee Accepts Sunflower Seed Offering

Black-Capped Chickadee Accepts Sunflower Seed Offering

How does one feed a wild Black-capped Chickadee? It’s easy to do along the seven small nature center trails that bear the names of Pine Loop, Chickadee Loop, Fox Trail, Tamarack Trail, Deer Run Trail, Aspen Trail and Wildwing Trail.  Simply hold your arm straight out with an upturned hand with sunflower seeds and stand VERY still. If you make a pshhh, pshhh sound through your lips, all the better. Black-capped Chickadees ‘hang out’ along all the nature trails, but the most cooperative chickadees seem to take a preference to the first few hundred yards of the Aspen and Tamarack Trails and will readily land in your palm.

Waiting for Chickadees to Land on Eager Hands

Waiting for Chickadees to Land on Eager Hands

Visitors must keep in mind that only chickadees and other small birds that might land in your hand to snatch a sunflower seed may be fed. Feeding the Sandhill Cranes, that occasionally erupt in spectacular vocal outbursts near or on the trails, is not permitted – nor may you feed other creatures along the trail.


A Tufted Titmouse Lands for Sunflower Seeds

Kensington Metropark is perhaps the best known of the 13 parks managed by the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority. According to park records, two and a half million visitors a year make Kensington their destination for the day. Many travel to the 4,543 acre park for the 18-hole golf course, a 27-hole disc course, and the numerous picnic areas. An extremely popular 8.5 mile long paved hiking and biking trail embraces the shoreline of Kent Lake. The farm center is an ever-popular destination. On warm days the beaches are popular with sunbathers, fishers and boaters. The park is rich with glacially sculpted forested hills, wetlands, lakes, lagoons, meadow, and a great diversity of wildlife and waterfowl. Winter lures cross-country skiers to the trails.


The ‘fluff’ of a broken trailside cattail stalk is worthy of exploration, and great bedding for mice.

Seven-year-old Rachel was my trail companion last weekend and hiking with a child on these trails adds to the pleasure, for they see things that we do not notice: silky milkweed pods, very tiny colorful leaves, spider webs glistening with dew, chipmunks with budging cheek pouches, sunning snakes – and on our Sunday afternoon hike, a surprise encounter with a snapping turtle that did not appreciate me kneeling down for a photo.

October is the month every adult should reflect on Burbank and not deprive themselves, or a child, of the best part of their education. Get outside and embrace nature, at Kensington or any of the hundreds of other parks, large or small across the Wilder Side of Oakland County.


Wildlife is wild, as this snapping turtle at the edge of the Wildwing Trail reminds.

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.

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