Take a hike Saturday in Metro Detroit

Greg Tasker
The Detroit News

Let’s admit it: Metro Detroit is not a hiker’s dream, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find long stretches of solitude in thick forests, climb a hill or two or wander through wetlands rife with waterfowl and birds.

That’s part of the motivation behind National Trails Day, which will be celebrated Saturday in Metro Detroit and across the country. The aim of the annual event by the American Hiking Society is to get YOU out on the trail and explore the many parks and recreation areas — i.e., nature — near you.

“Every year we have people who send us stories who have lived in areas their whole lives and just discovered a park in their area,” says Wesley Trimble, program outreach and communications manager for the American Hiking Society, which sponsors the annual event. “It’s a great way to get people out there and open a door to a new type of adventure.”

Begun in 1993 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the National Trails System Act, National Trails Day is not only meant to encourage everyday Americans to get outdoors and be active, but also to promote trail stewardship. The federal act designated the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail as the first two National Scenic Trails and created a framework to promote and protect trails across the country. Today, there are 30 scenic or historic national trails and more than 1,000 national recreation trails.

On Saturday, some 2,000 trail-related events will be held at national, state and other parks, as well as private preserves in all 50 states. Organizers expect upward of 175,000 Americans to hike, bike, clean and restore trails, among a host of other activities.

Several Metro Detroit parks will join the fun, including Waterloo Recreation Area near Chelsea, Orion Oaks County Park near Lake Orion and the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. Activities range from hikes to trail maintenance to bird watching.

The American Hiking Society is encouraging you to get out and hike anywhere, and there’s plenty of pathways in southeast Michigan, from boardwalks crisscrossing wetlands at Crosswinds Marsh Park in Wayne County to trails winding along wooded hills at state recreation areas, and metro and county parks in northern Oakland County to trails hugging the shorelines of rivers and lakes and a Great Lake.

“Michigan, outside of Detroit, is well-known for wildlife and fishing and camping, but a lot of people don’t think about those things being around here. It’s a surprise to them,” says Jennie Braatz, a park ranger at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge who moved here from the Eastern Shore of Virginia two years ago. “I had no idea how many different spaces of nature there were around here.”

National Trails Day has grown exponentially since its inception. A decade ago, the day featured 1,100 events across the country with about 100,000 participants. Some 176,000 people joined activities at 2,300 locations last year, Trimble says.

“Every year we continue to grow,” Trimble says. “We focus a lot on hiking, obviously, but on National Trails Day we do like to encourage other groups — mountain bike enthusiasts and equestrian organizations — to participate. Bike riders and equestrians don’t always get along, so it’s cool to see these diverse groups come together and do trail work.”

In Oakland County, Orion Oaks County Park has embraced National Trails Day the past few years, joining with the Oakland Audubon to lead a bird watching hike at the 900-plus-acre park.

“It’s a great opportunity for people to get out and see Orion Oak and several miles of trails,” says Kathleen Dougherty, education resource specialist, recreation programs and services for Oakland County Parks. “It fits in with the vision of the Oakland County Executive to get people outdoors and be active. It’s way to help build appreciation of nature and get people out hiking and to introduce trails in the area.”

Orion Oak is home to 10 miles of trails for hiking and biking, and Dougherty notes the Oakland County park system boasts more than 100 miles of trails.

South of Detroit, the Humbug Unit of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge will host an open house and a hike along a trail to demonstrate how stewardship crews maintain the habitat. At the refuge’s Gibraltar Bay unit, a hike will wind through the woods with a focus on learning about trees.

“This give people a chance to connect with nature in different ways,” Braatz says, noting the Humbug unit of the federal park is not yet open to the public. “Some people want to come and go out on the trails. Some people want to get their hands dirty, and some people just want to come out and connect with other people.”

Among the organizations promoting National Trails Day is Hike It Baby, a nonprofit group begun in Oregon in 2013 that now has chapters in Ann Arbor and Metro Detroit and around the globe. The group’s goal is create a community of families who enjoy the outdoors, with a regular schedule of hikes and other activities.

Nicole Hammond, who helped organize the Metro Detroit chapter, plans to be at Stony Creek Metropark Nature Center in Shelby Township on Saturday with her two toddlers in tow. The Ann Arbor chapter is sponsoring a similar hike at the Waterloo Recreation Area, the largest state-owned park in the Lower Peninsula.

Hammond says the uninitiated should not be “intimidated by the word ‘hike.’ ” The group’s activities include nature walks, urban strolls and play times “so the kids can just be outside.”

“Our goal is to create a community in nature, not necessarily to clock in hiking miles (although we do that, too),” the Shelby Township resident says. “We see animals, explore ponds, climb on logs, check out bugs, and it’s just amazing.

Hammond and other trail enthusiasts point out that recent research shows the physical and mental health benefits for children and adults to spend time outdoors and in nature. Children especially, she says, benefit from unstructured play outside.

“Nature is key to our very existence, in addition to being amazing,’ Hammond says. “Hike it Baby is committed to leaving no family behind, a strong community, raising a generation to love the outdoors, respect for nature, and inspiring wellness (in all of its aspects) in families.”

Greg Tasker is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.

National Trails Day Metro Detroit events

Grassland Birds Hike

8-11 a.m.

Orion Oaks County Park

(248) 858-0916


Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge

1-4 p.m.

Humbug Unit

(734) 362-7736


National Trails Day Hike at Stony Creek

Stony Creek Metropark

10:30-11:30 a.m.

(586) 781-4242


National Trails Day at Waterloo

Waterloo State Recreation Area

10:30 a.m.-noon

(517) 745-2733

hikeitbaby.com/hike/national-trails -day-at-waterloo

For other National Trails Day events, go to nationaltrailsday.americanhiking.org.

Paint Creek Trail

Garlic Mustard Pull (maintenance project)

9 a.m.-2 p.m.


Find a trail

You don’t have to wait for National Trails Day to get out and hike. You can join scheduled hikes at state recreation areas or other parks. Most parks have maps available. Here’s a few recommended hikes in Metro Detroit:

Lloyd A. Stage Nature Center in Troy and the Woodland Hills Nature Park, Farmington Hills: The network of trails at either is not very long, but it’s a wondrous surprise to find an oasis of woodlands in either suburb. The trails at the Troy site crisscross gentle terrain, thick with trees, and are home to easy-to-spot white-tail deer and other creatures.

Woodland Trail, Indian Springs Metropark: This generally flat trail winds through hardwood forests that are especially stunning in the fall when the foliage explodes in hues of red and orange and yellow.

Crooked Lake Trail, Pinckney Recreation Area: This 5-mile trail starts along the shoreline of Silver Lake and winds through thick woods, up and over hills. This state recreation area evokes a sense of being in the backwoods country of northern Michigan.