Monday, July 14, 2014

A trip long overdue: a weekend to the Saginaw Bay region

The beach along the Saginaw Bay, complete with logs, shells and sand. 
It's been a long six months since the last post on here, and many things have come up that have prevented updates. I was unable to attend my planned trip to Tahquamenon Falls State Park as I originally planned, and I've been unable to get out at any other time. That changed this past weekend.

My wife and I were able to travel north to the Saginaw Bay region for a weekend getaway this past weekend, just to recharge and enjoy getting away. We traveled to several spots in Saginaw, Bay City, Midland and Mount Pleasant, all areas we were familiar with since we are Central Michigan University alumni, and I spent several months working in the area several years ago.

We made it a point to visit Bay City State Recreation Area, a park we've visited before, but in the fall.
The pathway along the simple, one-mile loop trail around
a lagoon and the Saginaw Bay.
They've made some changes to the park since our last visit in 2010, including a new splash park that had dozens of visitors enjoying themselves. We ventured away from the splash park and walked along the lagoon trail, a short hike around the lagoon and leading to the sandy beach on the Saginaw Bay.

The trail isn't difficult and can be done by anyone, as it is cleared with some paving. But it provides a nice insight into the nature of the area, complete with swans swimming in the lagoon, and the chirp of the bullfrogs in the cattails. 

Starting at the visitor center (a nice insight into some history and ecology of the Saginaw Bay region), the trail has various inlets to get a closer look at the lagoon and its wildlife. Seagulls, red-winged blackbirds and blue jays were just some of the birds that could be seen and heard walking along the trail, along with seagulls flying around the waterfront of Lake Huron.

The lagoon, complete with algae, swans and bullfrogs.
Venturing off the trail near the bay is an option on the trail, one that several families took that morning to swim in the bay. The beach was lined with discarded shells and a smooth tree trunk that rested on the edge of the water, one that had its bark removed by the water and polished. The sights from the beach included some industrial smokestacks in the distance, something I've always found that kind of view a bit off-putting, but it speaks to the area we were in, so it adds to the experience, I suppose.

I forgot how nice Bay City State Recreation Area is for a day adventure. The parking lot was practically empty, and there are several pavilions to host events at. The trail system offers several options, with the lagoon trail being just one. It's worth a day trip if nearby.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Yet another outdoor adventure at Island Lake State Recreation Area, although this time with a plethora of snow

The snowy, snowy scene at Island Lake State Rec Area near Brighton this past weekend. The perfect weather for sledding.

Since my trip to Island Lake State Recreation Area is becoming an annual thing, typing out a recap begins to get old after three years.

Instead, some photos from the snow-filled weekend will suffice. We had more snow for the weekend than I can remember in previous years, including last year's drought with no snow, which made the winter activities of sledding and cross-country skiing all the better. It seems Heikki Lunta was looking down upon us this past weekend.

Out on the trail. Some hiked, others skied. 

Running down the small hills throughout the trails. 

A light snowfall happened throughout our trip, making for a pristine time

Very little falling took place on this ski trip.

Sledding at Kensington Metropark returned this year. Lots of snow made the
slopes nice and slick.

Never a plastic sled. Always use a metal runner sled.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Looking ahead to 2014, several local trips on the radar

Reviewing my post from earlier this year on where I'd like to go in 2013, I realized only one of those trips actually happened. It happens, but with less vacation time this year because of a trip with my new wife to Hawaii, I suppose it was bound to happen. And no, I don't regret going to Hawaii. Fantastic place to visit.

Going forward, with less planned on my calendar in 2014, here's hoping I can find a way to visit a few other sites that I haven't seen or it's been a while since I was last there. I've got some places I plan to see, what I'd like to see and what I probably won't see.

What I plan on seeing

Island Lake State Recreation Area

This is an annual trip, but it's one I enjoy so much that I've practically gone every year for the last 15
Here's hoping there's snow this year.
years. Usually in the third weekend in January, the weekend consists of sledding, cross-country skiing and tobogganing, as long as the weather holds up its end of the bargain with providing snow.

Combine the winter activities with a group of great people and some tasty eats, and it's a trip. The backwoods cabins tucked in the back of the park make for that up-north feel when you're only in Livingston County. No electricity inside means lanterns light your way. The sounds of snowmobiles and mountain bikes come through the brush along the trail. It's a great place in the winter.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

It's been almost 10 years since I last visited this park with the same group, but they are planning on returning for a weekend trip in May. The falls are a spectacular view and visiting Lake Superior is something I always long for, with it being my favorite Great Lake.

For a weekend trip, Tahquamenon Falls is a lengthy drive, but will hopefully be worth it. Seeing the shipwreck museum near Whitefish Point is something I enjoy seeing, and hiking in the spring will be a new experience for me up there.

What I'd like to see

Sunset near Oscoda.
Michigan's Sunrise Coast
I was able to make it to Oscoda this past summer for a long weekend, but there's no guarantee that I'll
make it up there again this year. I've spent many summers driving the stretch of US-23 along the eastern coast of Michigan's Lower Peninsula and find it more fulfilling than visiting the west coast of the state. It's less crowded and there are more hidden gems to find.

Bay City State Park

It's been several years since I went to Bay City State Park when I lived in Bay City, but going back to view the Saginaw Bay is up there on my list. While it might not be the cleanest water, the view is great and it's located nearby Bay City, a town I really enjoyed living in, albeit for four months.

Grand Haven State Park
The pier at Grand Haven.

I've been here several times, the last being in 2012. The pier is beautiful and the walk along it to the lighthouse is well worth it to see the view of Lake Michigan. Watching the boats come into the harbor on the Grand River is beautiful. One of my favorite places in the entire state.

Places I probably won't see

Mackinac Island

It's been several years since visiting Mackinac Island, and this year will probably be no exception. While I've wanted to take my wife north of the Mackinac Bridge, with costs and other life events getting in the way, I don't see a trip to Mackinac Island in the future. But it would be nice.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Another wonderful place to visit, especially off-season. I don't envision a trip here this year, but it's always great to dream. I've been to the dunes several times, and always enjoy exploring the park and the surrounding area near Traverse City. But probably not this year.

Port Crescent/Sleeper State Park

It's been many, many years since my last trip up here, but it's a place I've talked about going for three years now with a good friend of mine. There's not much at the tip of the Thumb, but the view of Lake Huron is great and I've heard Port Austin is a quaint town.

Is there another area I should explore this year? I'd love to hear some suggestions, I'm always looking for new places to explore.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A collection of stories on Michigan's wolf hunt

The total count of wolves harvested after three days
of the season.

As of the morning of Nov. 18, six wolves have been harvested in Michigan's Upper Peninsula as a part of the first-ever wolf hunt this state has seen. But the hunt has been widely criticized by many, saying the wolves don't need to be hunted because the case made for the hunt had been falsified by state leaders. Proponents of the hunt, including the director of Michigan's Department of Natural Resources, say the dangers wolves pose to humans and livestock are enough to push forward with the hunt.

The hunt allows for a small number of wolves to be harvested in three areas: near Ironwood in Gogebic County, a portion of land surrounding Houghton spanning four counties and another area spanning parts of Mackinac and Luce counties.

No more than 43 wolves can be taken during the season.

I've said it before: I'm not a hunter, nor do I live in the areas with wolves in the woods. I've had one indirect experience with wolves, hearing them howl on Isle Royale when I visited in 2005. My day-to-day life is not affected by this hunt or the decision to start the hunt. But the issue has sparked so much controversy in this state that it's worth sharing some of what's been written. I myself curated some content on the discussion for the wolf hunt this time last year as it was being debated.

MLive wrote a weeklong series on the wolf hunt, talking to U.P. residents nearby and examining some of the claims being made for the hunt. I have not had the chance to read it all yet, but the series looks at a wide range of topics. You can find most of them here.

Before the wolf hunt opened, a vigil was held in Mount Pleasant, my former home for four years while attending college. The vigil was put on by the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, who believe the wolf is a "brother" and shares a history with the Native Americans that have resided in Michigan.

The outdoors editor for the Toledo Blade in Ohio penned a nice piece on the hunt, talking to several people regarding the hunt and providing a nice, out-of-state viewpoint.

One of the big names people will recognize in all this talk is southeast Michigan native and rocker Iggy Pop, who has written a letter to Gov. Rick Snyder asking him to halt the hunt.

And one of the more visual images comes in the form of this Detroit Free Press video, which talks to the man who harvested the first wolf (albeit off camera) and shows the wolf in the pickup truck. It's some very real imaging and worth a watch (Disclosure: I work for the same company that owns the Free Press).

I'm on the lookout for any inspiring pieces on this hunt. If you find any interesting stories, I'd love to see them.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Lansing State Journal profiles dwindling Isle Royale wolf population

Every few months, I stumble across a post on the wolf-moose relationship found on Isle Royale in Lake Superior. I've seen these pieces in publications such as The New York Times and typically take the time to read them throughout.

But one recently caught my eye that has exceeded the rest: This piece by the staff at the Lansing State Journal, entitled "Silence of the Wolves." This piece reads like an interactive magazine, complete with courtesy and staff photos, narrative storytelling and a video, which is well worth the nearly seven-minute watch:

 This is a great read and worth the time to spend on it (Disclosure: I work for Gannett, the same company that owns and operates LSJ). It details the struggles of the wolf population in recent years, which has dwindled because of a lack of mating and genetic diversity on the island located in Lake Superior. More information on the wolves relationship with moose on the island can be found on this page, Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale.

Isle Royale, as I've written before, holds a special place in my heart from the trip I took there in 2005. We ran into several moose on the island, but never a wolf. I can still remember, though, hearing the wolves howl one night while staying at McCargoe Cove on the island's north side. It's a sound tough to forget, and hopefully won't be one that goes extinct at the park.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The J-stroke on the Manistee River is the best way to stay out of the brush

The Manistee River in early October is a wonderful trip to take. It's too bad (or is it?) others don't take advantage of
the water and the autumn colors that comes with it.

Most people don't spend a weekend in October canoeing in northern Michigan. That activity is reserved for the summertime when people have time.

But fall canoeing is one of my favorite times to go, provided it's not pouring rain like it did this past weekend west of Grayling along the Manistee River.

The Manistee has a slew of coniferous trees gracing its bank,
meaning the fall color I had looked forward to wasn't
completely there like last year's trip.
Staying in the Grayling State Forest group camp area along M-72 in Crawford County, we, the group of Christian Service Brigade members from St. David's Episcopal Church in Southfield, canoed a small stretch of the Manistee River. The river, which runs from the central northern Lower Peninsula west into Lake Michigan, contained quite a few meandering bends and small islands dotted throughout the water, but we saw no one else on the water, and that always makes for a smooth experience.

This was also a first milestone for me, as I typically avoid manning the stern of the canoe on trips such as this. I ended up in the back of the boat, a job much different than I'm used to in the front. While canoeing rivers, the man in the back is essentially the rudder, steering the boat and avoiding all those rocks, tree limbs and other hazards along the river, as well as making sure the boat stays in the correct position. I'm not as confident about my j-stroke (a stroke used to help steer a canoe) as others, so I tended to avoid the back and provide paddle power and limited steering using a draw stroke in the past.

Getting ready to launch the canoes into the Manistee
River. We took a lazy, five-hour trip down the river
before it got dark and too cold.
But with the need to provide some experience, I found myself in the back of the boat for the trek, which took us about 5 hours to complete, longer than we anticipated with breaks and other issues that arose. It started off rough for my partner and I, as I got ahold of steering the boat. My instincts on which side to paddle were a bit off; I was doing the j-stroke on the opposite side, thinking it would work. It did not, and we may have spun a few times throughout the trip.

But overall, my partner and I worked fairly well together on the river, even though he told me he was "never canoeing with me again." I think it had something to do with me yelling out the paddle/draw orders, something that happens when you're with someone who's never canoed before. It's a difficult thing to do, to canoe with someone. There's a reason they say it can truly test a relationship.

Overall, the river didn't have many obstacles to it, making it a seemingly smooth ride. We would hit a rock or log every once in a while that we couldn't see, but all the rain in the area helped raise the water levels, eliminating some of those from sight. It's not a fast-paced river, but flows enough to keep you moving if you plan on admiring some of the real estate along the banks.

One major problem we found, and a major problem it is when you have six kids with lots of energy, happened when we stopped for lunch. Long story short:

Yes, that happened. It wasn't as bad as we leaders thought it would be. One of the kids even brought a bag of beef jerky with him that appeared to keep the hunger at bay. Lunch for myself consisted of a glass of Coca-Cola and a warm cup of hot cocoa. When you're canoeing, that's all you really need to keep yourself going.

Thankfully, we avoided a majority of the rain while on the river that afternoon. It poured at camp the morning before we took to the river, and it poured later that night before going to bed. It rained so much that at some point, a pair of the tents we set up were flooded and their occupants ended up sleeping elsewhere. It was one of the more wet fall trips I've taken with the group in recent memory.

Fall canoeing is a great experience to do, especially when the weather permits. There's something about the crispness in the air and the colors changing that makes it such a great trip down the river. Has there been a canoe trip worth making in the fall? I'd love to know more about it!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The "natural" view of ArtPrize in Grand Rapids

It's not a typical topic that gets posted on this blog, but with all the photos my wife and I took this weekend at Grand Rapids' ArtPrize, I  wanted to find some way to share there here.

Many of the pieces involve the outdoors or are made from natural materials during the competition, which is quite the sight to see in downtown Grand Rapids in the early autumn. It's the second year we've gone there, and it's been intriguing to see what people have come up with.

The event is a public art competition, but we've always enjoyed just seeing what is created and placed in the city. What follows are some of the entries we saw and enjoyed, and that have a more "natural" feel to them. Enjoy!

This one, "The Tree of Life" was done using real leaves and drying them out.
Very cool.

One of our favorites: "Earth Giant," made completely from items such as
rocks, moss and wood. One of the cooler entries we saw. Voted as one of the
Top 10.

This painting of a dahlia, entitled "kaBOOM," did just that with its color.
It really stuck out to us.
While not made from natural materials, these flags were placed in the
Grand River. They've had some entries in the river, including some horses
made from wood last year. These were quite pretty waving in the wind, but
not as impressive of the horses.