The first days of January signal a New Year of adventures along the trails, and in the parks and wildlands of Oakland County. Snowy Owls, the denizens of the Arctic tundra irrupt into Michigan most winters confirming the season of snow has arrived – even when it’s delayed. Snowy Owls have already been sighted not far from our county. They perch motionlessly on fence posts and telephone poles near farm fields, spacious meadows and frozen lakeshores to wait for meaty entrées, perhaps mice and meadow voles, or a duck that did not wing south. January is the month that early rising hikers and trail runners find their favorite trails of solitude and solace, crisscrossed with tracks of our apex predator, the eastern coyote. It’s the season I look forward to sharing sunrises on a wooded, often snowy bluff that overlooks Buhl Lake, a four season gem of Addison Oaks County Park.
“My early morning hike of solitude on a sultry summer day at Independence Oaks County Park – North was a magical experience. Wispy cirrus clouds added definition to the clear blue sky. Spider webs sparkled with diamonds of dew. Sandhill cranes trumpeted from a wet meadow. An American Goldfinch and an Eastern Kingbird perched in tree tops to bask in sunlight, as did a Red-tailed Hawk high up on a transmission line tower. The music of crickets, and the rustle of aspen leaves in the morning’s gentle breeze softened the rumble of traffic on nearby Sashabaw Road.” I wrote those words last August as an introduction to a “Wilder Side” blog about Independence Oaks County Park – North; a 188-acre addition to the main section of 1,285-acre Independence Oaks County Park, the largest of the 13 parks managed by Oakland County Parks. Independence Oaks – North is the only Southeast Michigan park with a catch and release special designation by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The park also includes natural features that helped the site be classified by the Michigan Natural Features Inventory as a Priority One Conservation Area.
Looking for a place to spend a day on the greens, chipping, putting, and traveling across a beautiful golf course? You’re in luck because five Oakland County Parks maintain splendid golf courses. Whether you’re interested in the Arthur Hills-designed course of Lyon Oaks, a women’s league, beginner lessons, or a fast nine-holes at Red Oaks, Oakland County Parks has something to offer golfers of all ages and experience levels.
“Wherever I go, I see little bits of nature, little bits of animal behavior. And nobody else is watching…” Those are the words of iconic conservationist Jane Goodall in her 2018 interview titled, “Living with Chimps” that appears in the BBC publication, Science Focus. I had just finished reading the text of her interview last Friday about her controversial career and how her observations transformed the way we see our primate cousins. It was then time to head off to Springfield Oaks County Park for the grand opening of the 2018 Oakland County Fair. Jane Goodall was not on my mind nor was wildlife observation, but sometimes things change quickly.
Springfield Oaks County Park is not where folks generally go to embrace the wilds of nature or seek solitude. Springfield Oaks bustles with popular crowd oriented activities. The Oakland County Parks website makes no mention of passive nature exploration at their 333-acre multi-use park, but quite correctly boasts of the crowd-attracting venues:
“Springfield Oaks is home of the historic Ellis Barn and annual Oakland County Fair, which draws 100,000+ visitors annually to the 10-day event. The 1884 Ellis Barn is 14,000-square-feet and features an indoor riding arena, 11 box stalls, mechanical exercise ring and cavernous second floor for hay and straw. The barn was donated by former major league baseball players Kirk Gibson and Tim Birtsas and moved from its original located on Dixie Highway to Springfield Oaks in 2005. Today, the barn is used to host weddings and special events like the Ellis Barn Dance and the Michigan Antique Festival. The park also offers a multipurpose room for banquets, reunions and seminars as well as exhibit hall space. The grounds include two outdoor arenas.”
Summer is almost here, it’s the season leopards stalk through moist meadows and tall grass fields in search of prey. They are stealthy, well-camouflaged predators with powerful legs, keen eyesight, and voracious appetites. If prey comes within range, leg muscles tighten and in a lightning fast move, they lunge forward and strike; for that’s what ambush predators of all sizes do. Whether it be a bone-crushing leopard at Serengeti National Park in the wilds of Tanzania or a bug-swallowing northern leopard frog with a long sticky tongue on the wilder side of Oakland County.