WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
Night hiking is always an adventure, but it becomes a five-star adventure on a winter’s night. Hiking with a good friend, a group of friends, or like-minded adventurers adds to the pleasure, but even solo night trekkers are never really alone. Unseen creatures rustle through brush, or crunch through crusty snow stirring our senses into hyperactivity. The hooting of owls is a thrilling and comforting sound that brings smiles for those in the know. Yet sometimes, the whinnies of Screech Owls, deep melodious hoots of Great Horned Owls and the caterwauling conversations of the swampland-loving Barred Owls send shivers down the backs of folks who never tread trails after the sun sets.
Perhaps this winter is your season for making moonlight memories in the parklands and wildlands of Oakland County – and beyond. Night hiking, snowshoeing or cross country skiing with friends is in a word, enchanting. It can also become addicting. Cool air fills the lungs, fresh powdery snow slips off evergreen boughs, and as the moon climbs higher in the starry sky, its soft, reflected light illuminates meadows and frozen lakes. The woods, and perhaps the world, seem at peace, and then the moon shadows begin to dance.
After eyes adjust to the moonlight, a new world unfolds. Rabbits are motionless, but their presence is given away by shadows. Coyotes may howl as they search for mates and establish territory. Tracks near some of our thousands of lakeshores bear stark evidence of red foxes on nightly rounds sniffing around ice fishing holes for forgotten fish.
Here’s what you need to know before trekking solo, or with friends in the moonlight.
- Never hike alone after dark unless you stay on the trail and feel comfortable in an outdoor adventure. Night hides familiar landmarks, and imaginations can run wild.
- Always bring a headlamp and let someone know where you are going.
- Darkness combined with a spirit of adventure can lead to a disaster spawned by over confidence when it comes to crossing lakes of any size. Some of our spring fed lakes never develop safe ice. Situational awareness, as always, is a must. Don’t cross lakes after dark.
- Have a plan and know your capabilities, or find an organized night adventure to partake in.
Many of our county agencies, local park systems, and nature conservancies offer special winter events for the public. Call your local parks department and see what they offer. Here are three:
Oakland County Parks offers an Owl Prowl on Saturday, February 4th from 7-9 p.m. at the Wint Nature Center of Independence Oaks County Park on Sashabaw Road in Independence Township. “Some of the most beautiful moments in nature can only be viewed by the light of the moon. Join us on a search for nature’s most fascinating nocturnal creatures – owls! Learn about owls found in Michigan and how to recognize them by their voices, then head out on the trail to try calling them in. Quiet nature lovers are a necessity; this event is open to participants ages 6 and older. $5/person.” An Oakland County Parks vehicle permit is required for entry. The cost for an annual permit is $30. For more info or to register, call 248-858-0916.
Metamora-Hadley Recreation Area, operated by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in adjacent Lapeer County, offers a Candlelight Ski event on February 11th. “Participants will be able to cross-country ski or snowshoe a groomed trail illuminated by candlelight. Warm up by the bonfire and enjoy light refreshments in the red barn. Bring your skis or snowshoes and dress for the weather.” I participated twice and to say I had fun would be an understatement. For details, call 810-797-4439. The event and snacks are free, but a Recreation Passport is required for entry into all Michigan state parks and recreation areas. Check “YES” when you renew your license plate or learn more about the Recreation Passport at http://www.michigan.gov/recreationpassport.
Stony Creek Metropark, one of our thirteen regional parks, has several Evening Snowshoe Hikes planned for February. “Enjoy an evening winter walk with an interpreter on snowshoes (program is dependent on the weather). Ages 10 and older. We have a limited amount of snowshoes available. Please pre-register 586-781-9113.” A metropark vehicle entry permit is required to enter any Metropark. Regular admission is $35 annually and $21 for senior citizens. The cost for daily entry is $10.
Less than a week has passed since I meandered under the moonlight with a few dozen others near The Foundation Trail of Holly High School as a guest of Headwaters Trails and the North Oakland Headwaters Land Conservancy at their public owl walk. Although the owls remained silent, we were gifted with a view of the waning wolf moon and its amazing craters. Make this winter the time to explore the Wilder Side of Oakland County in moonlight. You will find yourself smiling.
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.