WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
Fall and winter hiking is an exhilarating experience, especially after a blanket of fresh snow. Don’t let the chilly weather hold you back; unless perhaps you are visiting snowbound Buffalo. The important thing is to be thankful that you have the opportunity to “Opt OutSide.” Make the day after Thanksgiving, a day to embrace the concept of Opt Outside! I’ll be out there too, not long after sunrise. I might even have a turkey sandwich stashed in my day pack along with a mug of hot cocoa.
The #OptOutside movement was started in 2015 by the outdoor retail company REI. The basic meaning of Opt Outside is to enjoy the outdoors on Black Friday instead of a crowded shopping frenzy. Since 2015, REI has closed its doors on Black Friday—inviting employees and members to spend time outside rather than shopping. This year, REI just announced their Opt Outside movement will be permanent for all their employees.
Many other retailers have joined a similar movement to close their doors on Thanksgiving Day to encourage employees and early bird shoppers to stay at home with their loved ones. In addition, Oakland County Parks and Recreation also hosts one of their Park Appreciation Days on Thanksgiving, when visitors can enjoy free daily park entry with access to natural areas, trails, playgrounds, dog parks and all park amenities.
There are plenty of adventures on the wilder side of Oakland County this season, whether you are taking advantage of Oakland County Parks Appreciation Day on Thursday, or Opting Outside on Friday (or both)!
Our woodlands, wildlands, and wetlands take on special beauty in winter. Wildlife tracks expose the hidden travel routes of coyotes, foxes, wild turkey, deer, and even mice. You might find wing prints in the snow where a Great Horned Owl swooped in for a rabbit, or encounter an opossum on an atypical daylight stroll. The drumming of woodpeckers adds rhythm to woodland treks and icy creeks create their special magical music of flowing water. Perhaps the best news of all is there are no mosquitos now in our wetland rich landscape. Ready to walk off the turkey and opt outside? Here are some suggestions. You might even find me on one of the trails.
Bald Mountain State Recreation Area surrounds the Graham Lakes trail. It’s a site with natural shoreline, old wooden bridges, abundant wildlife, and excellent views. It’s one of my favorite place for an easy, adventuresome hike on the wilder side of Oakland County.
Carpenter Lake Nature Preserve
The Carpenter Lake Nature Preserve features 42 acres of woodlands, forested wetlands, and native meadows overlooking beautiful five-acre Carpenter Lake. Interpretive signs, trailheads, and numerous benches are located along the trail. The preserve is located on 10 Mile Road just east of Inkster Road along the Ravines Branch of the Rouge River.
West Bloomfield Woods Nature Preserve
The 162 acre hilly West Bloomfield Woods Nature Preserve is located south of Pontiac Trail along the south side of the West Bloomfield Trail. The preserve was the first in Michigan to receive recognition as an Urban Wildlife Sanctuary from the National Institute for Urban Wildlife. It’s a popular and easy-to-reach place for an adventuresome outing.
Seven Lakes State Park
Seven Lakes State Park encompasses 1,434 acres and offers a great variety of trails. Some are easy to follow, others offer more challenging adventures and include trekking over glacial moraines, around streams, and through heavily wooded areas. Safety hint: wear orange!
Ortonville State Recreation Area
This 5,400-acre multi-use site managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources offers hilly challenges, especially at the Bloomer Unit of the park. Winter recreational opportunities include cross-country skiing on narrow ungroomed trails. There is even a 25-site equestrian campground located at the trailhead off Fox Lake Road.
This 41-acre site with primitive trails is managed by the Blue Heron Headwaters Conservancy, formerly known as North Oakland Headwaters Land Conservancy. It’s located near the village of Clarkston off of M-15, near the intersection of Northview Road and Perry Lake Road. I-75 is the eastern border of the preserve, which creates road noise distraction if you are listening for birds. However, just viewing and crossing the arched wooden bridge over a tributary of the Clinton River makes the trek extremely worthwhile.
Independence Oaks County Park – North
Independence Oaks-North is located one mile north of the main entrance to Independence Oaks County Park. It’s a great natural area to explore year-round, and once conditions permit, it also lures ice fishers. I always stay off the ice and do my exploring from the boardwalks, docks, and shorelines. Hike just after sunrise and your companions may include deer, turkeys, and even a barred owl.
Lakeville Swamp Nature Sanctuary
Lakeville Swamp is one of our remaining high quality wetland complexes in Oakland County, which are shrinking in number. Many of these areas are the last strongholds of native plants and animals remaining, including the Eastern massasauga rattlesnake. Lakeville Swamp is a mosquito-free gem in the colder months and a great location to embrace nature’s way on her terms.
Paint Creek, Polly Ann and the bridge
Hikers, cyclists, and cross country skiers have much to be thankful for, including the beautiful bridge that spans Paint Creek and connects two of the most popular trails in our county, the Paint Creek Trail and Polly Ann Trail via the Orion Township pathway.
Jonathan Schechter is the nature education writer for Oakland County Government and blogs about nature’s way on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.