Cold misty rain was falling, sections of the trails were slippery, and mosquitos were ferociously feasting on any exposed flesh they could find. Before you get discouraged, it was atypical to encounter so many mosquitos; however, at times they even swarmed the lens of my camera, which allowed for some interesting photos. Certainly not my favorite conditions for hiking and exploring nature’s way, but I trudged on ignoring the fact that I had become an involuntary blood donor. I think the mosquitos were equally pleased that I kept hiking.
I’m glad I did since nature rewarded me with an invigorating hike and some fantastic fungi finds in the Ortonville State Recreation Area (OSRA); a hilly landscape that truly is part of the wildest side of the wilder side of Oakland County.
Ortonville State Recreation Area encompasses 5,400 acres of heavily wooded glacially sculpted hilly terrain, but I was focused solely on the “Bloomer Unit” of this rather rugged state recreation area. Finding it is easy if you know where to look. Head north on M-15 from the Ortonville area turn right on Oakwood Road, follow Oakwood to Sands Roads, then turn right onto State Park Road. Look for the entrance to the Bloomer Unit of Ortonville State Recreation Area on the north side of State Park Road just a short way down the road.
A small parking area and a trail map are located at the end of the entrance drive, and that’s where you will find the trailhead. There is not staff on site. There are no modern facilities, and you may likely be the only person on the trail unless you wait another month and hike on a sunny autumn weekend when a kaleidoscope of colors will greet you.
Regardless of when you hike, bring your camera and always let someone know where you are going and perhaps pack some snacks for safety’s sake. Cell phone reception is less than reliable in sections of the Ortonville State Recreation Area. Hiking their trails is not like hiking a paved loop trail at Independence Oaks County Park, where it would be impossible to get lost. People can and do get temporarily lost when hiking off-trail at OSRA. The day-pack I take with me on all my hikes on the wilder side of Oakland County includes everything I need for an unexpected night out including snacks, an emergency shelter, matches and a small flashlight.
Be aware portions of the trail are open to hunting and dogs must be on leash. The sign that states “Animals Must be on Six Foot Leash” had me wondering what other animals people might hike with besides a dog. I hiked the looped trail in a counter
Trail marker No.
#1 is your starting point. When you pass trail marker No. #7, you still have a good way s to go before reaching your starting point. I hiked at a dawdling pace doing lots of exploring and intentionally went off trail several times for what I call “nature-embracing.” It’s a rather steady uphill climb from the starting point until reaching trail marker No. #3. Farm fields on private property are visible just off-trail on a section of that uphill stretch, and you are likely to see sandhill cranes in the field or hear their trumpeting.
After a windy day, it’s likely you may encounter fallen tree limbs or whole trees, which offer a perfect habitat for many small creatures, including chipmunks that store nuts and seeds in the hollows, and salamanders and wood frogs that will hibernate underneath. I probably should not have been surprised to encounter numerous baby toads hopping along on the trail, especially near the vernal ponds that they most likely emerged from. Some were motionless along the trail waiting in ambush for bugs to come in range. I did not see much other wildlife on my trek except about a half dozen wild turkeys scratching about last winter’s leaves – their method of finding hidden meaty morsels. I was too slow in raising my camera before they took flight.
If someone were to ask me what I enjoyed the most about that hike, even with the cold drizzle falling, it was encountering an early emergence of very colorful fall fungi. The three species I shared include my favorite, Chicken-of-the-Woods, which also happens to be an edible choice. A word of caution – there are poisonous mushrooms in our woods and some look similar to edible species. If you are not 100% certain, settle for a photo of the fungi.
Some sections of the trail hold water after heavy rain, and the trail is not appropriate for any sort of baby buggy or someone who has trouble with hills, but it is a great adventure and certainly gives legs and lungs a workout. On past hikes, I encountered people with backpacks as they got in shape for multi-day adventures. The trail was also my training location 13 years ago before I set out for Mount Kilimanjaro. I think I owed my successful summitting of that 19,300-foot peak to my thrice weekly trek on the OSRA trail with a loaded backpack the month before I departed for Africa.
Although our first snowfall is probably at least two months away, the trail will offer invigorating opportunities for ungroomed cross-country skiing, however, colliding into trees on steep winding downslopes can and does happen. About a dozen years ago when I was an on-call paramedic for Brandon Township’s fire department, I helped extricate a cross-country skier who had an unplanned meeting with a tree on a blustery winter day. A word to the wise is sufficient; this is truly a “wilder side” trail. I would suggest hiking with a friend or letting someone know where you are going no matter what season you hike.
The mosquito onslaught in our woodlands that embrace wetlands will continue to decrease as the days become crisp. Perhaps I’ll see you at the Ortonville State Recreation Area or another trail on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.
Jonathan Schechter is the nature education writer for Oakland County Government and blogs about nature’s way on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.