A Park on a River, Placemaking, and Pizza

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

One hundred and ninety-six years have passed by since Aaron Webster became the first permanent European settler along the banks of the Clinton River in what is now the City of Auburn Hills. He died of typhoid fever just two years later in the summer of 1823, but before his death he constructed a dam on the river that captured the power of the water’s flow to operate a saw mill.  The timber from his saw mill was then was used to build a grist mill to grind grain. That’s how Auburn Hills began.

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Nature’s Almanac At The Dawn Of Autumn

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

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Forget for a moment the temperature soaring into the 80s all week; today is the first full day of autumn. Summer officially ended at the exact moment the sun crossed the “celestial equator”, and the crossing of that line in space only occurs twice a year.  The September equinox happened at 10:21 EST yesterday.  Get ready to celebrate the season of apples, pumpkins, hayrides, fall festivals and hikes under kaleidoscopes of color.  Oakland County Parks, our Huron-Clinton Metroparks, and dozens of other parks in our towns and cities are ready for outdoor autumn adventure.

Even with our unseasonable warmth, seasonal changes of autumn are easy to see, and sometimes hear, in the parklands, wildlands and trails that span the county. One of the most noticeable signs is the wide array of fantastic fall fungi that is spreading their spores to expand their kingdom. Moist woodlands are spawning the rapid growth of the stunningly beautiful Fly Agaric, better known by its scientific name Amanita muscaria, a toxic species, and The Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), a delectable edible delight.

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The Drum Beats of Spring: Michigan’s Exotic Dancer

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

DSCN0519I was hunkered down against the moist moss at the base of tree near the edge of a tamarack swamp at Indian Springs Metropark. It was about two hours after sunrise. My mission was simple and pleasurable. Sip coffee from a thermos; and wait to see what creatures stirred. Sitting motionlessly in promising habitat, and just listening, is my favorite method of intentional wildlife encounters. I expected turkeys, perhaps a deer, or maybe even a dramatic appearance of the red-crested forest giant, a Pileated Woodpecker. I did not expect an encounter with a beautiful exotic dancer in the dappled sunlight of a spring morning. But as John Muir once penned, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” You will discover more than you seek along the trail system that meanders through prairies, woodlands and swamp habitats of 2,215 acre Indian Springs Metropark. You might even meet the dancing drummer, a Ruffed Grouse. Go early, when the park is most peaceful. And check out their Environmental Discovery Center before heading home.

A faint, slightly muffled sound seemed to come from a tangled thicket of branches at the edge of the tamarack woods. The sound quickly snared my attention. Perhaps the sound could be best described as an old lawn mower engine struggling to start. Almost a minute of silence, except for the chatter of chickadees that flitted overhead followed, and then that odd chug-chugging sound increased in tempo and perhaps volume, or maybe it was my concentration that made the sound seem louder. My friend, the exotic dancer, the woodland drummer, was back. And if you have ever witnessed a Ruffed Grouse drum on a log to entice the ladies, well, that drumming dance is about as exotic as they come.

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Fall in Oakland County

The next best thing to the Fall colors Up North? Fall in Oakland County! With more than 65 miles of parks and trails, there is plenty of autumn leaves to crunch through, and activities for everyone. Oakland County consists of 910 square miles of cities, watersheds, lakes, golf courses, homes, schools, and so much more. It is the premier place to live, work, play, and raise a family.

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Witch Hazel: Mystery Tree That Flowers in October

The Wilder Side of Oakland Countyimg_0677

The witch hazel tree is a small, hidden in plain sight, understory tree with gnarly-looking branches. Perhaps one of the strangest and least recognized native trees of Oakland County, it thrives in most parks with rich woodlands. Witch hazel spans the American countryside, from the deep forests of Maine and the Green Mountains of Vermont, to the hills and hidden hollers of the Appalachian Mountains, down into the lowland forests of the South.

With Halloween just around the corner, this tree, with a delightful mix of myth, mountain lore and scientific fact, is flowering right on schedule. Unlike most northern plants, that select spring as the season of blooms, the witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) waits until the cool, short days of October to produce delicate clusters of spidery, fragrant, yellow flowers. Few, however, notice the flowers, for they are lost in kaleidoscopes of rich colors in the woodlands on the wilder side of Oakland County. But when the strangely beautiful, little blossoms are framed by a dramatic backdrop of red maple leaves in their deep crimson finery, they draw the human eye and make one wonder what the previously unnoticed blooms might be.

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