Activities, programs heat up during winter months at county parks

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published December 14, 2015

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OAKLAND COUNTY — When the flakes fall in Oakland County, you can count on a few things: Some schools will close, roads will get a bit slippery, and the roar of snowblowers will fill the air.

But you can also count on throngs of nature lovers heading to the county’s parks for a little cold-weather fun, according to Independence Oaks Park Supervisor DJ Coffey. Despite the warmer-than-normal temperatures we’ve enjoyed so far, Coffey and his staff are gearing up for one of Oakland County Parks’ most popular seasons.

“Once we’re able to get snow, we’ll begin grooming the trails for cross-country skiing,” said Coffey. “We’ll have an ice skating rink, we’ll rent snowshoes and skis Fridays and Saturdays, and at Addison Oaks and Orion Oaks the trails can be used for snowshoeing, hiking and fat-tire biking.”

One of the more popular activities, Coffey said, is cross-country skiing, particularly at Independence Oaks in Clarkston. In January, if weather permits, the park will host a cross-country skiing class for those who want to learn more about the winter sport. Equipment will be provided, and guests need only pre-register for one of six sessions.

Also new this year, he said, will be the addition of lights at the Orion Oaks dog park on Tuesday and Thursday nights, allowing a little off-leash winter fun for four-legged county residents in the evenings.

This will be Coffey’s first winter as the supervisor at Independence Oaks, and he’s already looking forward to seeing how residents utilize the natural resources available to them.

“Previously, I was with the (Michigan) Department of Natural Resources,” he said. “It’s always been fun seeing the change of the season and the change of the activities that go on, and it will be the same here in the parks setting. In the winter, people have the opportunity to go snowshoeing, winter hiking, ice fishing — it just changes the dynamic of things.”

Programming at the parks changes for the season too. Naturalist Sarah Hudson, of the Red Oaks Nature Center at Red Oaks County Park in Madison Heights, said that there’s still plenty to do at the nature center during the winter for visitors of all ages and all temperature preferences. Brave participants can enjoy some of the outdoor educational opportunities, while others stay cozy inside the nature center for other events.

“There’s a lot of activity going on in nature during the winter, and we like to, of course, educate people about it and also give them a really excellent nature experience,” Hudson said. “It’s a time of year when people are maybe sitting at home and watching movies or reading books. But it’s a great opportunity to get outside, get some exercise and some fresh air, and maybe avoid getting cabin fever.”

One of the newer programs being offered this season is the Winter Astro Evening on Jan. 15, 2016. Hudson said that with the change of the calendar, the constellations in the night sky also change, and the Red Oaks Nature Center likes to host visitors in its inflatable palladium to teach them about the seasonal stars.

“The Oakland Astronomy Club will probably be here with telescopes, and last time they brought a few artifacts from space that people could look at,” she said.

The nature center will also host, for the first time, a winter survival class Jan. 30, 2016, for participants ages 8 and older. Instructors will talk about the basic survival skills needed to get through a Michigan winter in the wild, like reading animal tracks, building a fire and constructing a shelter.

Nature lovers who aren’t so keen on the cold can enjoy the American Legends program with interactive storytelling, hot chocolate and coffee, a snack, and a pioneer toy souvenir.

Then, later this winter, Hudson said, guests should make sure they reserve their spot early for the maple sugar demonstrations Feb. 27, 2016, where visitors will explain how to identify a sugar maple tree, tap it for the sap and boil it down to syrup in their own kitchen.

“That’s a really popular one, and it’s so easy. You just need pretty simple tools, like a milk jug and a spile, to get syrup in your own backyard if you’ve got the trees,” she said.

A full list of programs and activities can be found at the Oakland County Parks and Recreation website, www.destinationoakland.com.

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