Adventures in Your Backyard
Summer is, among other things, a chance for adventure. With the sun high and the weather warm, parks and trails in the tri-county area are opportunities just waiting to be seized. Parks across Eaton, Clinton and Ingham counties offer adventures in your own backyard. Chances to explore, learn about the history and experience what makes Michigan unique, await you and your families this summer.
Ingham County holds over 1,500 acres for parks and recreation. One of the most popular parks is Lake Lansing Park North. With 410 acres and hiking trails more than five miles long, Lake Lansing Park North is family friendly with something for everyone. The park includes picnic areas, play grounds, basketball courts, a softball diamond, volley ball, access to the Lake Lansing Boat Launch and even a tricycle track for youngsters.
Burchfield Park is Ingham’s largest county park, coming in at a whopping 540 acres of scenic woodlands, trails and beaches. It contains Burchfield, the Riverbend Natural Area and access to the McNamara Canoe Landing. Nature abounds, with the chance to witness animals both small and large in their natural habitats. If you feel like taking to the water, canoe, kayak and pedal boat rental is offered on the Grand River, which flows throughout the entire park. Looking for an adrenaline rush? Riverbend Natural Area has five miles of wooded trails along the Grand River, as well as an advanced mountain bike trail 10 miles long.
What used to be the Sablin Gravel Pit is now Hawk Island, a park in the heart of Lansing. With a 30 acre lake and 1.5 miles of non-motorized paved pathways, this park is perfect for row and pedal boat rentals, swimming, picnicking
The most loved and famous trail in Lansing would probably be the Lansing River Trail. Stretching all the way from Jolly Rd. to Old Town, and Hawk Island Park to MSU, the River Trail has 13 miles of paved walkway, running along the Grand River and Red Cedar River. The River Trail goes through natural areas and parks, as well as Downtown Lansing. This trail can be enjoyed by everyone, young and old, human and canine. Open from sunrise to sunset, the River Trail can give even longtime residents an exciting tour of the Lansing area.
Filling out the need for even more wildlife in Lansing, Potter Park Zoo is a delightful experience for those seeking a more exotic adventure. Animals from all over the world call Potter Park Zoo their home, including the African lion, spider monkey, snow leopard, Amur tiger, ostrich, red panda and many more. For only $4 a resident ($10 for non-residents) and $2 for children, you can enjoy Potter Park Zoo from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. this summer!
Not too far north of Lansing is Sleepy Hollow State Park, located in Clinton County. The park holds over 2, 600 acres and includes 16 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. What makes this park special is that Sleepy Hollow has a separate trail, 8 miles long, for horseback riders. Because the trail is horses-only, the chance of a horse-pedestrian accident is slim to none, especially with the park’s own special parking lot for horse trailers.
Also close by is Motz Park, Clinton’s first county park, which opened on June 12.
Dr. Charles Nelson, chairperson of the Clinton County Green Space Commission and professor at MSU, describes Motz Park as a community park for everyone. “People need places close to home where they can have fun, safe fun,” said Nelson.
The 42 acre park includes a 15 acre lake, designed with accessibility in mind. Because of its gentle slope, the lake is child-friendly. Motz also has a floatable wheelchair to make the lake handicap accessible. The pavilion — (created by supervised high school students in the area) – can be rented out for large parties or simply used for grilling and picnics. There is an unpaved trail around the lake, and plans will be made to pave it in the future.
“This is a very community oriented place. Everyone is welcome,” said Nelson. “We surveyed 1,000 county resident households, [asking what they] want us to do if we get in the parks business, and they said two things … They wanted access to water, and secondly,t they wanted non-motorized trails.”
If you fancy a more rustic outdoor getaway, Rose Lake Wildlife Facility is just the right place. Miles of trails give you the opportunity to see eagles, deer, songbirds and more in their natural habitat.
Lincoln Brick Park and Fitzgerald Park, located in Eaton County, can make you feel as if you’re in a world millions of centuries old. The trees are mature, and the fall color along the river bring people from all around the state. Lincoln Brick has a 20 acre prairie, and Jackie Blanc, Naturalist for the Eaton County Parks Department, suggests this spot for fall.
“Fall is a great time to see some of the prairie in its peak,” said Blanc. “Lincoln Brick Park is known to people because it feels remote when you’re out there. It’s rustic [and] you actually feel like you’re out there in nature. If you like to feel like you’re away from people and out in nature, that’s the park for you.”
Lincoln Brick Park also offers a beach, picnic shelters, fishing, two miles of nature trails and a museum with the history of the park and a fossil collection from all over the United States.
Across the river from Lincoln Brick is an exciting history lesson. Fitzgerald Park’s Ledges tell a story of Michigan’s changing geography. Ancient sedimentary rock outcroppings line the three miles of nature and hiking trails.
“You get down there and you kind of feel like you’re traveling back through time,” said Blanc. “The Ledges are 250 million years older than dinosaurs.”
The Ledges were also recently host to the cast and crew of the 2010 remake of Red Dawn, where the team took advantage of the historical site for the filming of the movie.
The Ledges at Fitzgerald Park also have caves and old carvings, perfect for exploration and adventure.
Keehne Environmental Area, with 17 acres, has two ponds, several nature trails and a boardwalk through a wetland area. The boardwalk, a half-mile long dock system which goes across the wetland, is a favorite in the Eaton County area for fishing … a reminder that Michigan is home to a wonderful and diverse aquatic ecosystem.
No matter where you go in the tri-county area, there is much to see and plenty to do. Each park offers something new, adventurous and different, with something that every age can appreciate.