WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
Winter weather may appear frightful, but a hike with good friends is nothing short of delightful. Hiking is good for you too and offers more than the sights, sounds and scents of nature. It’s an easy and effective cardio workout that lowers blood pressure, blood sugar levels, reduces risk of heart disease, strengthens muscles, helps control weight and boosts your mood. It’s also a great way to make new friends. “Research shows that hiking has a positive impact on combating the symptoms of stress and anxiety,” says Gregory A. Miller, PhD, former president of the American Hiking Society, “Being in nature is ingrained in our DNA, and we sometimes forget that.” Perhaps 2017 is the year to remember that we humans were born to hike.
My love affair with nature goes back to my barefoot days as a 3-year-old running rampant in rural Connecticut, chasing bugs, hugging trees and searching for wild beasts found only in my imagination. Not much has changed, but more often than not, now I wear hiking boots when trekking, have some idea where I am going, and preach and practice a degree of situational awareness when stepping off an established trail in distant lands, or on the wilder side of Oakland County. Big trees still taunt me to climb their low-hanging branches, small streams fascinate me, frozen woodlands entice me, and wildlife tracks tempt me. Even a simple ten-minute walk in the woods leaves me smiling.
When I step outside into nature, I’m stepping into a world of health and happiness, freed (at least temporarily) of world worries, and I’m constantly reminded of the timeless words of John Muir, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” I am lucky, for I discovered that secret years before I stumbled upon his writings in college, and I quickly surrendered unconditionally to the world of nature.
The first week of the New Year is drawing to a close, but that leaves us with fifty-one more weeks to set out on a trail in Oakland County. Hundreds of miles of easily accessible public trails are found here. Parklands and trails add richness and value to the landscape of the county. There are numerous looped trails where getting lost is not possible, as well as primitive footpaths in our hilly and expansive State Recreation Areas that can be both physically and mentally challenging for those that are not prepared. The websites of Huron-Clinton Metroparks and Oakland County Parks have details on many of our most popular parks and trails. Local municipalities promote city and village trails, and their nature-related events, as do our nature conservancies. Six Rivers Land Conservancy hosts winter hikes and cross-country ski events across the county and beyond, and The Solar Club offers hikes, trips and classes for outdoors people in all of Southeast Michigan.
North Oakland Headwaters Land Conservancy and Headwaters Trails focus on rural events, including winter owl walks. Heavner Canoe Rental even offers winter paddling on the Huron River and has special kayaking events in partnership with Kensington Metropark, combined with visits to their farm center.
I started my 2017 hiking season at Proud Lake State Recreation Area, a multi-use wildland with over twenty miles of trails managed by the Michigan Department of Resources as a participant/observer in their New Year’s Day celebration cosponsored by Heavner Canoe Rental and local MeetUp groups including the Michigan Adventures Club. Over 100 outdoor enthusiasts attended this annual event, and that’s where all the accompanying photos were captured. Some hikers just took short meanders around the River Annex building after sharing in a bountiful potluck feast and happy camaraderie, while others hiked for three or four hours and stayed for an early evening campfire. A few dozen people opted to paddle on the Huron River. I joined a group of hikers that first circled wetlands along the Marsh Trail and then crossed over the Huron River at a popular pedestrian/kayak crossing and went for another six or seven miles along heavily wooded trails. The first day of the New Year was a delightful day of smiling happy people, whom at times were slipping along on icy boardwalks and climbing up fallen forest giants. The nature lovers among us admired skunk cabbage emerging through ice, and the round-lobbed hepatic that will flower soon after the snows of winter melt.
Don’t wait for spring to hike. Find a trail and make it your goal to trek about the Wilder Side of Oakland County and I predict it will make for a healthier and happier New Year.
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.