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Indian Springs Metropark: Woodland Trail
This is Indian Springs’ best trail for escaping into the natural world and possibly sighting wildlife. Woodland Trail is a 3.5-mile walk but three crossover spurs allow you to shorten it; Crosscut, 0.75 miles, Hunter’s Ridge 1.25 miles and Sawmill, 2 miles.
The entire loop, however, is an easy hike that takes most people less than two hours and allows them to take a break at the park’s most scenic corner, Timberland Lake. The foot trails are either surfaced with gravel or mowed lanes and have extensive boardwalks over wet areas and streams. The trail is extremely well marked and the park has also erected almost 20 interpretive plaques along the route, all of them encountered before or after the Sawmill Crosscut junctions. Being a swamp, there is little, if any, elevation gain.
There is nothing the park staff can do about the bugs however. Be aware that deer flies and mosquitoes can be particularly annoying from late June through early August. Pack along some powerful repellent if you arrive then. On the other hand a late April/early May hike would be delightful here with nearly 250 flowering plants infusing the woods and wetlands with color.
Wildlife that may be spotted include whitetail deer, coyotes, mink and birds ranging from barred owls and red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks to an occasional sandhill crane. The one animal the area is best known for is the massasauga rattlesnake, Michigan’s only venomous snake.
This small rattler, adults range from 17 to 29 inches in length, is extremely shy and avoids contact with people at all costs. Few visitors ever see one in the park. Its color pattern consists of grey with a row of large rounded brown/black blotches down the centre of the back. Although poisonous, massasauga bites have rarely cause death to people and only strike when they are mistakenly handled or stepped on, usually unknowingly. By all means don’t let this snake stop you from enjoying this trail.
From the backside of the nature center, a sign for the Woodland Trail encourages you to hike it in a counter clockwise direction. You immediate enter the woods, a welcome change for the open grass areas and golf course seen along the park road. At Mile 0.3 you arrive at the posted junction with Crosscut Shortcut, marked by first of three rain shelters that have been built along the loop. It’s a half mile back to the Nature Center.
Hunter’s Ridge Shortcut is reached a half mile into the hike and Sawmill Shortcut at Mile 0.7, from which the nature center is 1.7 miles away. Beyond Sawmill you hike deeper into the Huron Swamp, passing a handful of patches of water, both wooded swamps and small, semi-open marshes, that will be buggy in the summer but beautiful in the spring and fall.
At Mile 1.4 you reach the spur labeled Timberland Lake Trail. This short trail is a 200-yard long boardwalk that leads you out the woods for the first time and across a an open fen for a pleasant change of scenery. It ends at a large observation deck overlooking the secluded lake. Benches allow you to sit quiet and look for wildlife.
Backtrack the boardwalk and head right at the junction for the return to the Nature Center. You remain in the woods, passing more patches of water and a long boardwalk across a stretch of low-lying forest. Sawmill Shortcut is reached at Mile 2.25 and the interesting interpretive signs resume. You soon pass within view of the Hike-Bike Trail and then cross a foot bridge over a feeder creek to the Huron River.
Beyond the bridge more open meadows and fields are encounter, making this final portion of the return not nearly as interesting as the first half. Hunter’s Ridge Shortcut is reached at Mile 3 and Crossover at Mile 3.2. Just beyond it you arrive at the Lower Pond where a pair of observation areas allow you to study the pond or the sedge fen bordering its east side. From the pond the trail swings to the north and the nature center pops into view.
The Meadowlark Picnic Area has two shelters that can be rented along with tables, grills, a wood playscape, volleyball court and horseshoe pit. Adjacent to picnic area is Spray N’ Play which children can get soaked in the water spray area, climb a rock wall or a cargo net, or find their way through a maze. The toddler area includes a painted labyrinth and a sand pit with oversized scoopers for digging. Indian Springs also features a 6,707 yard, par-71, 18-hole course 18-hole regulation golf course (248-625-7870) with a driving range and club rental.
Completed in 2005 at a cost of more than $12 million (which included the Spray n’ Play park), the Environmental Discovery Center is a showcase interpretive area with a flaw. The facility overlooks a man-made pond and it most notable feature is a tunnel and glass viewing room that was designed to provide visitors a below-the-water view of pond life, including native Michigan fish and plants. But an algae problem in the pond has resulted in visibility of usually less than a foot and most people leave the room seeing little if anything. Still the wetland exhibits on the top two floors are interesting and make for a good place to start for families with young children.
The Indian Spring Nature Center is also an attractive building that uses solar energy for heat and has natural lighting. Along with bathrooms, lounge, and a classroom, there are interesting exhibits, both hands-on and live animal displays. One, entitled “The Huron River from Ice to Erie,” traces the history of the river and diagrams its 115-mile route from its mouth in Lake Erie to its headwaters, the Huron Swamp that lies just outside.
Indian Springs is open from 8 a.m. to dusk daily and the Environmental Discovery Center is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Memorial Day to Labor Day and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the year. The nature center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.. daily in the summer and 1-5 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends during the school year. The Spray N' Play is open year round, with the water spray area open Memorial Day to Labor Day. A vehicle permit fee is required to enter the park.
The park can be reached from M-24 (Dixie Highway) in Clarkston by heading west on White Lake Road and following the park signs 5 miles to the posted entrance along White Lake Road. It can also be reached from M-59 by turning north on Ormond Road and then east on White Lake Road.
Contact the Environmental Discovery Center (248-625-6640), the park office (800-477-3192) or the Metroparks Authority at 800-477-2757 or (www.metroparks.com).
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