Park officials push outdoor activities for winter fun

Greg Tasker
The Detroit News

It may be winter, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get out and enjoy the outdoors at some of the state recreation areas in Metro Detroit.

Michigan park officials are making it especially easy the next couple of weekends with guided cross-country and snowshoeing excursions and other activities at state recreation areas such as Brighton, Waterloo and Island Lake.

“I think people are looking for a reason to go outside,” said Stephanie M. Wirtz, recreation programmer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The state is working the private outfitters and friends’ groups to host some activities, most of which are free and require a state Recreation Passport.

“Outdoor programs have been popular all over the state,” Wirtz said. “(Earlier) this year we hosted a Shoe Year’s Hike that encouraged people to get outdoors and hike in any parks. Now that we have snow, we want to encourage people to get out and cross-country ski or snowshoe.”

At Waterloo Recreation Area near Chelsea, cross-country skiers and snowshoers this weekend can join a guided, lantern lit excursion on separate half-mile loops in the 20,000-plus-acre park. Between laps, you can warm by a fire ring. If you don’t have snowshoes, the park has some available.

And next weekend Brighton Recreation Area is hosting a “Snow Shoe Spectacular,” with Native American history lessons. Nathaniel Spurr, a member of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi Tribe, will lead a snowshoe hike in the 4,947-acre park and talk about American Indian history and customs in Michigan and the Great Lakes. He also will talk about their relationships to nature.

The state Department of Natural Resources is not only promoting greater use of the state’s recreations areas in the cold months, but also encouraging fitness. Michigan has more than 100 state parks and thousands of miles of trails. And even without snow, many parks are great venues to walk or trail run, fish, kayak and other activities.

“Winter is way more fun when you get outdoors and embrace it, instead of wishing it was over. Hiding indoors has never successfully made winter go away, so make the most of it,” said Jacquelyn Baker, communications and marketing manager for the Michigan Recreation and Park Association. “Michigan is a four-season state, and that’s a great thing. There’s something exhilarating about getting active in winter. Bundle up and breathe some fresh air. Enjoy the picturesque snow and ice.”

To further emphasize its efforts, the DNR deemed 2016 #MIShoeYear to urge residents to put on their shoes, skis or skates.

“Whether you are taking the first step toward fitness ever or the first step in a long time, the beginning of the year is when a lot of people kick off healthier lifestyle routines,” said Maia Turek, a recreation programmer for the DNR. “When you declare #MiShoeYear, it’s more than just a workout, it’s an adventure. Explore new trails. See new vistas, get to know Michigan while you get fit.”

Island Lake Recreation Area near South Lyon is among the state parks offering guided snowshoe hikes for the first time.

Next Saturday, the park and Friends of Island Lake will lead short, guided snowshoe hikes along the shores of Kent Lake. The trek begins with a short introduction to the sport at the Kent Lake parking lot. Island Lake has about 20 pairs of snowshoes available for use. Donuts will be served afterward at a warming station.

“This is our inaugural snowhoe event,” said Andrew Haapala, manager of the 4,000-acre park in Livingston County. “It’s a chance to get people out in the winter time. We have a lot of summer events here and the main goal of the snowshoe hike is get people out to enjoy the park even when it’s cold.”

Though park attendance drops in the winter, Island Lake has been fairly active with snowmobilers, cross-country skiers, ice fishing, fat tire bikers and hikers.

“There’re still a lot of fun activities do in the park,” Haapala said. “When you’re out in the park in winter, it feels like you’re Up North, and there’re a lot less people. After a snowfall, walking in the woods is beautiful. You don’t fee like you’re in Metro Detroit at all.”

Greg Tasker is a Metro Detroit freelance writer


Winter Fun

Upcoming outdoor activities at state recreation areas. Reservations are recommended; inquire about fees.

Lantern Lit Ski and Snowshoe

Waterloo Recreation Area

7 p.m. Sat.

(734) 475-8307

Candlelight Trail (Snowshoers and cross-country skiers welcome)

Metamora-Hadley Recreation Area

6 p.m. Sat.

(810) 797-4439

Snow Shoe Spectacular

Brighton Recreation Area

10 a.m. Feb. 27

(810) 229-6566

Snowshoe Hike

Island Lake Recreation Area

1 p.m. Feb. 27

(810) 229-7067

For information on outdoor activities at Michigan state parks and recreation areas, go to

Recreation Passports are available at state parks for $11