The Wilder Side of Groveland Oaks

Groveland Oaks County Park is an extremely popular summer destination for recreational vehicle users who wish to camp with the luxury of creature comforts, want full hookup campsites, and like being close to camping neighbors to chat and perhaps dine with. If you are seeking solitude and just the music of nature or looking for a pristine location for your backpacking tent, Groveland Oaks is not the place to go. 

On a summer day, the park sizzles with excitement and human activity. The scent of barbecue filled the air during my exploration during the last week of July and was accompanied by the laughter and excitement of children and adults along the shoreline of the lake. Some were fishing, some were boating and some, like me, were exploring. The Oakland County website showcases Groveland Oaks this way. “Located on Stewart Lake just 1.5 miles east of I-75 ‘exit 101’ in northern Oakland County. Large 50’ x 50’ full hookup and modern campsites, group camping areas, eight cabins, four yurts and two Island pavilions for group parties. Park features Stewart Lake, a sandy beach, miniature golf, campground recreation program, pedal boat and kayak rental, bike rental, fishing pier, three large children’s playscapes, skateboard park, bike skills course, basketball and volleyball courts and paved trails.”

There is, however, a wilder side of Groveland Oaks if you know how to find the Thread Creek Trail. A reader of my blog had inquired about the trail. I had never heard of the trail, and when entering the park, saw no signs directing me toward it. I approached a park employee on his field mower and inquired about the trailhead entrance, which is very easy to miss. I had missed it and drove right past it expecting to find a designated parking area. There is not a designated parking area for the trailhead, but the employee assured me just park at the edge of the grass and “enjoy your hike.” And so, I did just that. It was a most enjoyable trek through woodlands and meadows and, much to my surprise, I encountered no other people during my two-hour exploration. I did however discover that the wilder side of the park is alive and well and teaming with secrets of nature’s way. Here are just some of my discoveries.

I was pleased to see a “No Mow Zone” adjacent to the paved pathway leading to the woodlands. That no-mow area was bustling with natural activity. A praying mantis took flight when I knelt for its photo, but invasive Japanese beetles that were near the mantis continued their leaf-munching and were more cooperative for my camera lens. I also saw a few Eastern Bluebirds flitting about and then noticed why. A pair of bluebird nest boxes were located not from where the paved trail enters the woodlands. Their constant activity to and from the nest boxes suggested they were catching insects to feed their hatchlings.

As soon as I entered the woodlands, I was greeted by the call of a Northern Flicker. After about five minutes of patiently watching and waiting while sitting comfortably on a large glacial erratic, I was able to capture a few photos. With that photo mission accomplished, I continued my trek pausing at several almost dry wetlands and vernal ponds. I also crossed over equally dry Thread Creek, a reminder that our county needs rain.

Although my meandering and exploring in just the woodland section of the park lasted for an hour, my distance covered probably less than a mile. The trail is paved in some areas and even included a few small hills.

After circling around on the woodland trail, it was time to continue on a short connector trail that led to another loop trail that embraced a meadow teaming with activity. I felt bad that my meadow intrusion startled a pair of deer that apparently had bedded down in the shade of the tall grasses at the edge of the woods, and then bolted at my unintended approach.

The meadow exploration was a treat with a freshly mowed pathway showing the way. Signage at the park is very minimal, but if you stay on the meadow pathway as I did, it circles back to where you began. You won’t get lost if you stay on the trail. Off-trail meandering could become problematic. I’m guessing the meadow path is about a mile long, and it offers some really good views, including one of nearby Mount Holly. However, my most intriguing and memorable encounter was with a species of wasp I had never seen before.

The wasp, which was almost two inches long, was perched on the blossoms of Butterfly Weed, a very beautiful and rather common flower of sunny meadows. A bit of research after returning home led to its identification, a Great Golden Digger Wasp. The wasp has a partially reddish-orange body and colorful legs which made it easy to identify. Although not “aggressive” towards humans, you would not want to be any insect species that it hunts. The female wasp paralyzes its prey with a forceful sting and then flies with her captive to her underground burrow. She then lays an egg on its motionless captive. Upon hatching, the paralyzed prey is consumed while still alive.

With the wasp encounter behind me I continued my slow-paced trek reveling in the fact that I had ‘discovered’ a new nearby site for nature explorations. I will most certainly return for further explorations of this almost hidden wilder side wonder of Groveland Oaks County Park. A crisp autumn day would be ideal.

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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