WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
Winter officially began at 23:03 Universal Time on December 21. That moment marked the point at which the least amount of sunlight fell across the northern half of the globe. The earliest humans on earth may not have chatted around a campfire about the winter solstice, but they managed to grasp the fact that the sun’s path across the sky, the length of daylight and the locations of sunrises and sunsets all shifted in detectable patterns. Stonehenge is one such testament to the event. Winter, in all likelihood, was a time of great challenge, when many struggled just to survive. Today we have Facebook and Twitter to mark the solstice and here in Oakland County, we have 13 parks that take on a special beauty during the slowly lengthening days of winter. Addison Oaks County Park, Independence Oaks County Park and rural Rose Oaks County Park are three of our hilly and glacially sculpted parks that are rich in winter trails and wild land adventures on the wilder side of Oakland County.
Addison Oaks County Park located at 1480 West Romeo Road in Leonard, 9 miles North of Rochester, is a 1,140-acre park in northeast Oakland County with two lakes, spring-fed ponds, oak-hickory-maple woodlands, rolling hills and 20 miles of trails to explore by foot, snowshoe or cross-country skis. The park is home to deer, coyotes, foxes, hawks, and owls and was named one of the Top 10 best family-friendly places to hike by MetroParent Magazine. Weather conditions permitting, groomed cross-country skiing trails for skate and classic skiers will be offered on the Buhl Lake Trail. Ice fishing is popular too, when conditions are safe for it. Even in winter, this park is popular with birders and photographers.
Independence Oaks County Park, is a naturally-maintained 1,276-acre park near Clarkston at 9501 Sashabaw Road, north of exit 89 and off of I-75. It’s an extremely popular winter destination for cross-country skiers, nature lovers, ice skaters and ice fishers. “The best groomed Independence Oaks Ski Trails in southeast Michigan are at Independence Oaks” according to Hour Detroit magazine’s Best Winter Getaways List. More than 12 miles of nature and ski trails are available with some of the more challenging and hilly trails in the county found on the west side of Crooked Lake. If a species walks, crawls, flies or swims in Oakland County, it might be found at Independence Oaks. Warming shelters and cross-country ski rental are available for park guests and a beautiful nature center is a focal point of activity. Just one mile north of the main entrance on Sashabaw Road is Independence-North, an addition to this wilder side park that includes Upper Bushman Lake. It’s a catch-and-release only lake as designated by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Independence-North is a great place for an easy hike after dawn. It’s the perfect time to search for fresh wildlife tracks near the edge of the lake or just to seek refreshing solitude.
Rose Oaks County Park protects 640 acres of open meadows and glacial shaped hilly wooded uplands. It boasts approximately 200 acres of valuable wetlands and includes several small kettle lakes formed by glaciers. It is a perfect habitat for beaver, mink, muskrat and massasauga rattlers, the only venomous snake found in Michigan. Did you know that during winter, massasauga hibernate in moist crayfish burrows between the trails and wetlands? This beautiful park is as wild as an Oakland County Park can be. It has almost no amenities, with the exceptions being impressive boardwalks over wetlands and about five miles of ungroomed trails. The trails at Rose Oaks are perfect for hikers, snowshoe fans and cross-country skiers. Coyotes follow the trails too and red-tailed hawks hunt the meadow. Cooper’s Hawks are found in the woodlands and observant hikers may spot snow-covered beaver lodges. The original park entrance is at 10400 Fish Lake Road in Holly. However, a new entrance is quickly gaining popularity on the east side of the park on Buckhorn Lake Road, just south of Davisburg Road. During winter, it is important that park guests bring anything they may need to explore safely. This park is unstaffed, except for routine patrols by deputies from the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.
The solstice is here. Go hike! Humans do not hibernate.
Text and photos by Jonathan Schechter, Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Parks. Schechterj@oakgov.com
For details on maps, trails, permits, park rules and winter recreational opportunities at these three, and the other 10 Oakland County Parks, visit DestinationOakland.com.