WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
Rains on the first day of May accelerated the growth of delicate woodland wildflowers and the spring prize of the fungi world, morel mushrooms. It sent frogs to every puddle and pond, and skunks meandering for grubs at dusk. May sees Sandhill Cranes and Osprey back on their nests. Turkey Vultures now perch on rural barn roofs to catch the morning sun. Turtles bask on logs and goslings explore their shoreline world. Snapping turtles and northern water snakes swim through the shallows. Fawns wobble in dappled sunlight, and beavers come on shore in the cover of darkness to fell trees for their home improvement projects. This is the way of the magical month of growth and birth and renewal, a month we call May, a time to discover and share nature’s way.
May is the perfect month to explore nature with your children, or anyone that finds pleasure in sharing simple things in the wildness of nature. To a child free of the encumberments of an electronic device, the feel of cool moist moss on bare feet and the sight of tiny creatures in a woodland creek are all wondrous.
Luther Burbank was an American botanist who died in 1926. One of his short ramblings remains popular with educators and parents with a love of nature. There is no better time than May to make certain your child is not deprived of the best part of education, the teacher we call nature. Burbank wrote, “Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb. Brooks to wade, water lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hay fields, 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 education.”
But where does one find a special place to explore nature and not be deprived of the best part of education? The answer is simple. Anywhere, and everywhere, for the ways of nature are not restricted to parks and wildlands. Nature is where you find it. No matter where you live, even in highly developed areas, nature lives too. It may just be a mushroom pushing up between the cracks of a sidewalk, a robin building a nest on a porch, a water strider crossing a puddle, a red squirrel chattering from a tree branch, a flock of house sparrows scrounging for scraps, or perhaps just clouds drifting overhead.
For young children, all things of nature are wild and beautiful and stir interest. Walk slowly and stop often as you explore. Find a comfortable, quiet place to listen to sounds of nature, or the solitude and lack of man-made sounds around you. If you are so lucky to have your own woods, perhaps create a wood stump chair for a child’s listening post. And add a rule: No electronics, no cell phones at the listening post. Let nature be the teacher.
The opportunities to embrace nature along trails in the parklands and wildlands managed by the towns, cities, conservancies and numerous park agencies of Oakland County are endless. Walk early in the day or just before dusk and the words of John Muir resonate, “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares drop off like autumn leaves.”
Oakland County’s trail system totals in the hundreds of miles, some trails designed solely for hikers, others for equestrians and hikers. The big three hike-bike trails, that increase in popularity at the dawn of May: the Paint Creek Trail, the Polly Ann Trail and the Clinton River Trail connect with other trails including the Macomb-Orchard Trail and the West Bloomfield Trail. Trail expansion is also pushing south along IT corridors in Novi and will soon cross into Wayne County at Maybury State Park.
Looking for a park to explore? You need not look far. Oakland County Parks manages thirteen parks totaling 6,700 acres. Not all parks in Oakland County are managed by Oakland County Parks, but if the park’s name ends with the word “oaks”, it’s a park managed by Oakland County Parks. Red Oaks and Catalpa Oaks have a suburban-urban flavor, while Rose Oaks and Highland Oaks are two of the “wilder side” parks of our county. Independence Oaks County Park has something for everyone, including nearly flat paved trails and very hilly trails that give a lung and leg workout! Our regional park system, Huron-Clinton Metroparks manages 25,000 acres of land in its 13 parks in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw and Livingston counties. My favorite, Indian Springs Metropark, is located entirely within Oakland County and presents nature opportunities and adventures for all age groups and trail abilities. A hike at dawn is a true adventure into the wilder side of our county, especially now with woodland wildflowers approaching peak bloom.
Thousands of additional hilly acres of publicly accessible state lands in Oakland County, including ever popular Bald Mountain State Recreation Area, Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area, Proud Lake State Recreation Area and Seven Lakes State Park are managed by the Michigan Department Natural Resources. Six Rivers Land Conservancy has just released a spring and summer schedule for their Adventure League that offers hiking, biking, paddling and camping trips in Oakland County, and beyond. Don’t forget to explore the opportunities offered by your local unit of government and those of the North Oakland Headwaters Land Conservancy, the Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy and the Michigan Nature Association.
Why not make May the month to greet the sunrise and sunset and embrace the delicate intimacies and secrets of nature’s way on the wilder side of Oakland County. You just might find it habitat forming.
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.