It’s easy to enjoy the great outdoors in Southeast Michigan – especially in Oakland County.
With 90,000 acres of publicly held recreational land including two state parks, six state recreation areas, two state game areas and 13 county parks, there’s always something to see and do outdoors.
And the good news is you don’t have to travel far to find it.
“Because it’s so close to metro areas like Detroit and Flint, these state game and recreation areas are great places to quickly get away from the hustle and bustle of the city,” said Holly Vaughn, wildlife communications coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
“Oakland County has awesome opportunities for hiking, biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing, but it also offers great wildlife-based recreation opportunities, whether it’s bird-watching, hunting or wildlife viewing.”
This chance to connect with nature wouldn’t be possible without decades of conservation and wildlife management on a local, state and federal level throughout Southeast Michigan, said Matt Pedigo, chair of the Michigan Wildlife Council.
Created in 2013, the Michigan Wildlife Council is dedicated to building awareness of the importance of wildlife management and conservation – and what is required to ensure that Michigan’s great outdoors can be enjoyed for generations to come.
“As an avid outdoorsman, I truly believe that every time we get out in the woods or on the water, it helps us to better appreciate Michigan’s amazing natural resources,” Pedigo said. “When you can bring your kids or grandkids with you, that’s even better.”
Many of these wildlife habitats would not be possible without the help of Michigan’s sportsmen and women. Hunters and fishermen play a huge role in preserving Michigan’s natural resources.
“Many people are surprised to learn that the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses and gear primarily funds the conservation work in Michigan’s forests, waters and wildlife,” Pedigo said.
Oakland County is a perfect place to see all that hard work paying off. Here are a few examples:
Bald Mountain Recreation Area
Bald Mountain Recreation Area preserves some of the steepest hills and most rugged terrain in southeastern Michigan.
Just seven miles north of Pontiac, the park consists of three separate units located south and east of Lake Orion. Camping is limited to rustic cabins, but the extensive trails, inland lakes, trout streams and wild game provide recreation opportunities all year long.
“We’ve got everything from deer hunting and fishing on 11 different lakes to kayaking, a sandy swimming beach and mountain biking,” said Adam Lepp, Bald Mountain Recreation Area unit supervisor.
The nearly 5,000-acre recreation area offers 15 miles of marked hiking and biking trails east of M-24. Its main day-use area features picnic and swimming facilities around Lower and Upper Trout lakes.
In the winter, the area is popular for its separate trails for groomed cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.
“We groom the North Unit trails twice a week in the winter for classic-style skiing,” Lepp said. “In the South Unit, we get a lot of winter fat-tire biking out here. There are also a lot of great hills for sledding and lakes for ice fishing.”
Bald Mountain also offers a wide array of target shooting opportunities on a 130-acre shooting range.
Lepp said metro Detroit residents often make the short trek to Bald Mountain Recreation Area to enjoy the outdoors.
“You only have to drive 30 miles and it feels like you’re up north,” he said.
Davisburg State Game Area
Though small in size, the 110-acre Davisburg State Game Area supports a large variety of game and nongame species, including wild turkey, white-tailed deer, blue-winged teal, fox, muskrat, mink, beaver, woodchuck, songbirds and hawks, as well as reptiles and amphibians. The state game area is adjacent to lands owned by Oakland County Parks and Springfield Township. Together, these lands make up the I-75 Woods/Long Lake natural areas.
The Nature Conservancy has identified the fen (lowland area partially covered in water) in this state game area as globally significant because of its size and quality, Vaughn said.
The area also includes rare plant communities and southern dry-mesic forest, as reported by the Michigan Natural Features Inventory, the only statewide database on rare plants and animals in Michigan and a resource for those working to conserve the state’s biodiversity.
While there are no reported sightings of the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, the only venomous snake in Michigan, the area offers ideal habitat for it.
“It should be assumed that they exist in the area,” Vaughn said. “There have been numerous occurrences of the eastern massasauga rattlesnake reported on the adjacent property owned by Springfield Township. The massasauga is considered a threatened species in Michigan, so protecting its habitat is vital for the continuation of this species.”
Because of its smaller size, Davisburg sees only light activity from turkey and deer hunters, as well as fishermen. Davisburg is a great destination to explore and view wildlife any time of the year, Vaughn said.
Oakland County Parks
No matter the season, there’s always plenty of activity at one of the 13 parks operated by Oakland County Parks and Recreation.
“Southeast Michigan and especially Oakland County are blessed with a wide variety of natural ecosystems that support a wonderful range of outdoor recreational opportunities,” said Dan Stencil, executive officer for the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission.
Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and hiking are available at most Oakland County parks. Ungroomed trails are available at Highland Oaks, Lyon Oaks, Orion Oaks and Rose Oaks county parks.
Addison Oaks County Park now offers groomed trails for fat-tire biking. Fat-tire bikes feature oversize tires that enable them to easily traverse snow-covered trails.
Cyclists, cross-country skiers and hikers can be found throughout the winter on Addison Oaks’ 5.6 miles of groomed, multiuse trails. With many hills and scenic views, the path loops visitors throughout the park.
In Clarkston, Independence Oaks is the largest Oakland County Park at 1,286 acres, providing groomed ski trails, rental equipment and restroom facilities in the winter. Snowshoe and cross-country ski equipment is available for rent on the weekends.
Independence Oaks is also home to the only catch-and-release lake in southern Michigan: Upper Bushman Lake. The 31-acre lake offers an extensive floating dock system that allows anglers to cast a line from the dock in water more than 20 feet deep, Stencil said.
Independence Oaks is home to the Wint Nature Center, which offers hands-on natural history exhibits as well as a feeding station viewing area. The park’s staff also conducts year-round educational programs.
At Highland Oaks, park officials have managed to preserve sensitive wildlife habitat while also providing unique recreational experiences.
The park’s 302 acres of rolling hills, wetlands and old pastures offer 2.5 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding, geocaching and cross-country skiing, as well as fishing from an accessible floating dock. Archery deer hunting is allowed in designated areas during the appropriate season.
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