WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
Today is the day you can tell anyone to “go take a hike!” and not worry about any repercussions (if they know that November 17th is National Take a Hike Day).
Take a Hike Day was started by the American Hiking Society to encourage friends and families to trek trails and experience the pleasures of hiking and connecting with nature. A memorable quote from author Cheryl Strayed in her memoir, Wild, expresses one part of Take a Hike Day perfectly—it’s a time for self-reflection while embracing nature’s way.
“It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would feel this way.”
You don’t need to hike the rugged Pacific Crest Trail like Strayed did to sense those same feelings. Just head for the wooded wilder side of Oakland County and take a hike. Hiking opens our eyes to encounters with the natural world, helps maintain healthy bodies and creates a more positive outlook on life via slow paced foot traffic.
Hiking lets our minds relax. I would go so far as to say it creates a sense of calm when away from the digital world of dizzying distractions. I meander a quiet woodland trail several times a week, sometimes alone, sometimes with a kindred soul who shares my passion for the wildness and wonders of nature’s way. However, even when hiking alone, I am never really alone. I talk to the squirrels, and they chatter back. Sometimes Black-capped chickadees feed out of my hand. I once had an opossum appear and curiously watch my passing from shrubs near the trail.
The National Park Service does more than manage national parks. They share information on hiking and its relationship to relational health:
“You don’t have to go it alone next time you lace up your hiking boots. Grab a friend, neighbor, or family member for more fun on the trail. Hiking with a partner, or even in a group, can improve the strength and health of your relationships. Because hiking ranges in difficulty from an extremely challenging climb to a casual way of spending time outside, it’s a great way to strengthen the friendships or bonds you have with your companions. Whether it’s with a younger sibling, neighborhood friend, or even a grandparent, hiking a trail together can bring you closer and help build a healthy relationship.”
I look at the official National Take a Hike Day as a fun hiking boots holiday that celebrates the availability and wonders of all hiking trails, especially our major national scenic trails that were authorized by Congress with the National Trails System Act of 1968. “National scenic trails” may be a vague term to non-hikers, but the three best known national scenic trails are the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and the 4,600-mile North Country Trail, some of which meanders through Michigan. I’ve hiked very short sections of both the Appalachian Trail and the North Country Trail—no more than six consecutive days on a trail, camping along the way. Some of my most enjoyable and memorable short treks were just last year along the North Country Trail.
Although there are not any national scenic trails close to Oakland County, Michigan is home to more than 12,500 miles of designated trails to enjoy. Oakland County is active in trail planning and has worked toward trail connectivity for over 40 years, supporting the ever-expanding, interconnected system of major regional trails that include the Paint Creek, Polly Ann, Clinton River, Michigan Air Line, Huron Valley, Milford, West Bloomfield and Iron Belle Trails.
The Iron Belle Trail (IBT) will eventually go through Oakland County and 47 other counties. It’s a work in progress and is really two trails in one, using existing trails, networks and new connections. One trail is designated for hiking, the other for biking. They both will connect Ironwood in the Upper Peninsula to Belle Isle State Park in Detroit. When complete, the hiking trail will be 1,204 miles long and the biking trail will be 828 miles long. Iron Belle Trail signage is already in place in an Oakland County section of the trail where the Iron Belle crosses over Paint Creek on a beautiful new pedestrian bridge, and then follows a safety path in Orion Township paralleling Clarkston Road for a short distance.
Orion Township is a Pure Michigan Trail Town and has stunning roads near Bald Mountain State Recreation Area. Orion supports the IBT and has excellent safety paths and encourages residents to hike their 50 miles of trails. Their website even states “our trails are waiting for you!”
To learn more about trails and pathways managed by Oakland County’s local communities and regional agencies, visit the county’s trails and transportation planning webpage. For more information about trails throughout the county, visit the Oakland County Trail Viewer, which is an interactive map that even includes trail elevation gains and distances.
Oakland County Parks and Recreation offers nearly 80 miles of paved and natural surface trails for walking and hiking. Some are flat, short and paved, others are natural surface and extremely hilly. Hardly a week goes by without me running the Lakeshore Loop at Independence Oaks County Park.
Huron-Clinton Metroparks has trails of every sort, with Kensington Metropark being an extremely popular destination for Oakland County hikers and trail runners. An early morning trek on the trails almost always ensures memorable encounters with wildlife. I’ve even seen wild turkeys and sandhill cranes trotting on the trails.
Days are crisp and shorter. Nights are frosty and longer. Tamarack trees, our deciduous evergreen, are now smoky-golden. Witch hazel blossoms capture early snowflakes. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, National Take a Hike Day is a great time to head to any trail or just meander the woods in a mosquito-free environment.
Last weekend, light snow blanketed part of northern Oakland County. That does not mean it’s time to hibernate like a woodchuck and give up hiking our trails. Just dress for the weather and embrace the season.
A word of caution to those who are new to hiking and want to give it a try: hiking can lead to incurable woodland wanderlust fever and you may not be able to shake that healthy habit. Don’t let that make you afraid to lace up your boots and head out. Trail opportunities and the benefits of hiking are waiting for you, all you have to do is go. Go take a hike! I’m about to head north to one of my favorite woodland trails with the words of Henry David Thoreau in mind: “I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.”
Jonathan Schechter is the nature education writer for Oakland County Government and blogs about nature’s way on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.