Bear Creek Nature Park is a very attractive, easily assessable user-friendly park that’s almost hidden away in plain sight in the glacially sculpted rolling hills of Oakland Township. Unlike parks managed by our Metroparks and Oakland County Parks, permits are not needed to visit Bear Creek which is managed by Oakland Township Parks and Recreation. For more information on Bear Creek Park and other parks managed by Oakland Township Parks and Recreation, click here.

Several years had passed since my last nature-embracing hike at this 107-acre site that includes an excellent trail system, woodlands, marsh areas, small boardwalks and, perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to easily explore nature’s natural calendar year-round. My last visit to Bear Creek was not what you would have called a “walk in the park.” It was on a blustery winter day with blowing and drifting snow and at times near white-out conditions. It was challenging, to say the least, but also a lot of fun for I am hopelessly addicted to outdoor adventuring in every season of the year, with perhaps the lone exception of a sultry summer evening when mosquitos are feasting.

A few weeks ago, on a brilliant sunny day with the temperature soaring, I decided it was overdue for a return visit and headed out shortly after sunrise. I was so pleased with that early morning trekking that I returned the next day for more exploration and relaxation and this time, more importantly, I was armed with my camera and a mug of iced coffee. Consider today’s blog just a short introduction to this gem of nature and hopefully an enticement for you to discover for yourself the nature of Bear Creek’s wilder side. You might even call today’s blog a trail-trekking teaser. Bear Creek with its gentle hills and diverse habitats is perfect for a solo or short family hike or perhaps to sit in solitude on a bench on the dock and absorb the sights and sounds of nature.

Regardless of your plans consider packing a picnic lunch or perhaps stop at the nearby Paint Creek Cider Mill on the way to the park for sandwiches and of course, apple cider. Bear Creek has picnic tables and restrooms and several small shelters located near the main entrance of the park. Although there are also two pedestrian entrances the main entrance to the park is well-marked and located on Snell Road just a bit east of Orion Road. There is also an array of play structures for children near the main entrance and a field that was busy with flying Frisbees and a family gathering fun when I was there.

Upon arrival at Bear Creek, I followed one of the ADA assessable crushed limestone trails along the edge of an expansive field of wildflowers and was greeted by dozens of dragonflies out on their early morning catch-and-consume missions. Some hovered above the array of meadow flowers while others seemed to be headed in the same direction I was going, downhill toward the pond. I was excited to see several dragonflies of one of my favorite species, including the Orange Meadowhawk and the Blue Darner dragonfly, and even more pleased when some paused long enough for photos.

I paused on the trail to photograph a Red Admiral butterfly nourishing itself on moist nutrients from raccoon scat that was on the pathway trail. I knelt to position myself on the trail to capture a few photos and then left it to consume its recycled feast. I also noted a few butterflies in a moist area on the trail practicing what is called “puddling.” Puddling occurs when butterflies gather in a damp area to sip water containing salts and other minerals that have leached in from the surrounding soils. It’s an amazing sight to see when a large gathering appears at once, but I was pleased to see the one Red Admiral that used the scat as a source of moisture and nutrient gathering.

Wildflowers were everywhere with butterfly weed, a brilliant orange member of the milkweed family being the eye-catching star of the show. A few minutes of observation answered the question of why it’s called butterfly weed. Hike at Bear Creek on a sunny day and the sky is alive with butterflies flitting above the flowers. I was able to capture an image of a Great Spangled Fritillary feeding on the blossom’s nectar. It was a species I did not know, but a butterfly-savvy friend made the identification for me after I shared an image on Facebook. I was also excited to see several Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds visiting the same field of flowers.

After watching the butterflies flit about and taking note of multiple Easter Bluebirds at the edge of the meadow I continued my meander down towards the pond. I paused about a dozen times in my slow-paced walk to take in the sight, sounds and smells of summer day. Although it had been very dry for the preceding weeks, I was surprised to see wild asparagus as tall as me at the edge of the meadow. When I stopped for photos I glanced up and noticed Turkey Vultures soaring effortlessly on the rising thermals.

With all my stops for what I call “nature-embracing,” it took me almost an hour to just walk to the small pond that can be easily reached in about 5 minutes. The pond was my real destination for my return trip, and this time with a camera and the patience to sit and listen to the summer symphony of frogs. I was not disappointed. I was able to record the symphony of multiple green frogs and at least one bullfrog that was hidden in a thick carpet of duckweed that covered much of the pond. A Northern Watersnake was too elusive for a photo capture, but it slithered off the dock just as I approached. I stayed at the pond’s dock for well over an hour before following the loop trail around the ponds to revel in more sights, songs and scents of nature’s way on a summery day.

On my intentionally slow trek back to the parking area, I stopped to admire a cluster of delicate Deptford Pink wildflowers almost growing in the shadow of a very large oak tree that was thriving way before Oakland Township was settled. I bet that tree would have stories to share if it could speak.

Jonathan Schechter is the nature education writer for Oakland County Government and blogs about nature’s way on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.

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