WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
Foggy and sometimes frosty October mornings, kaleidoscopes of autumn leaves, majestic trumpeting of Sandhill Cranes, and hot pink muck buckets: they all signal it’s time to saddle up and ride the multi-use equestrian trails managed by Oakland County Parks. Although I am not a rider, I answered the call of the equestrian wild. For the next few days, I’ll be camping with horses in the woods of Addison Oaks County Park as a boots-on-the-ground observer and guest of the Addison Oaks Trail Riders for their fourth annual Camp’ N Ride Event.
Libby Dwyer is an active member of the Addison Oaks Trail Riders, a friends group that works to promote park use by equestrians, performs on-going trail maintenance and organizes special events, including the annual equestrian camp out offered within Oakland County Parks. She said, “After being involved in trail-building with other government entities for almost 30 years, my experience with Oakland County Parks is an example of how successful a partnership between special interests users and parks should be.”
Maryann Hagen is an avid rider, board member and editor of the Highland Equestrian Conservancy newsletter. She echoed Dwyer’s words and added, “As land is developed, and country roads turn into paved thoroughfares, riders do not have access to the trails they once used to enjoy with their equine companions. Maintaining a rural atmosphere and preserving green space is of utmost importance. Oakland County Parks management understands the need for equestrians to have trails to ride on. They have been instrumental in working with our group and other equestrians to determine how to develop horse-friendly and safe trails within the Oakland County Park system. We have access to groomed trails and staging areas at Highland Oaks County Park, Rose Oaks County Parks and Addison Oaks County Park, with the promise of more horse-friendly amenities to be implemented. Each park offers a unique experience of varied terrain to explore, a visual feast for the eyes to enjoy and a trail rider’s paradise right in our own communities.”
Oakland County Parks have almost 70 miles of trails, including 18 miles of equestrian trails that are galloping ahead in popularity as the Parks department strives to maximize the value of its parks for all residents. One way to accomplish this is by promoting multiple user groups whenever possible. Connectivity with other trails is always a need, and that need is being met when possible. The 2.4 mile long Addison Oaks Connector Trail is an eight-foot wide pathway of crushed gravel. The trail features wide grass shoulders and is one of the newer links in the expanding trail network of Oakland County. It leads riders to three miles of trails at nearby Cranberry Lake Park, managed by neighboring Oakland Township Parks. Principle Planner Jon Noyes of Oakland County Parks said, “The Addison connector trail provides safe and appropriate access between our parks and other locations for pedestrians, equestrians and mountain bikers.”
Although this week’s Camp’ N Ride at Addison is drawing most of the attention, the equestrian-friendly trails at Rose Oaks and Highland Oaks are also increasing rapidly in popularity. This is all while maintaining their rural character and winning support from industry, government and friends groups. International Transmission Company funded colorful trailside interpretive signs that add to the educational and pleasurable value of the trails for all users. Both of those parks also have universally accessible boardwalks that take hikers, horses, and perhaps by December, cross-country skiers across spring-fed wetlands.
As for those hot pink muck buckets, aesthetics and good housekeeping are important in maintaining trail comfort for all user groups. Several years have passed since Rose Oaks Equine Adventurers donated eight sets of hot pink muck buckets with matching pink manure forks to Oakland County Parks for boardwalks at Highland Oaks and Rose Oaks. Their attempt to encourage riders to remove horse “gifts” from the boardwalks is working!
For information on the 13 parks, and all trails managed by Oakland County Parks, visit their newly redesigned website. Then saddle up and ride, or find a trail to hike during the golden days of October on the wilder side of our county.
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.