After a few false starts, spring has finally sprung here in metro Detroit!
How can you tell? Well, for starters, the robins have returned, the flower beds and trees are beginning to bloom and your social media feed is filled with folks grumbling about the Tigers. That’s OK, at least the Red Wings are in the … oh, wait, never mind.
But while it’s still a bit too early to break out those beach blankets (for the record, it snowed in mid-May here two years ago), the coming weeks will provide ample opportunities for you and the kiddos to get out and have a little fun al fresco. Spring is the perfect time to get reacquainted with your local woods and waterways, as you’ll have those areas practically to yourselves before they’re filled with fair-weather wayfarers – and the benefits are boundless.
“After being cooped up all winter, spending an hour or two outside this time of year can do wonders for your mental and physical well-being,” said Matt Pedigo, chair of the Michigan Wildlife Council. “Enjoying some time outdoors also provides a great opportunity to talk to your kids about the importance of our environment. It’s always good to plant that seed early.”
At its website, hereformioutdoors.org, the Michigan Wildlife Council can help get that conversation started by providing you with real-life conservation stories that demonstrate the importance of caring for our natural resources. The council is conducting a public education campaign to promote the benefits of wildlife and natural resource management in Michigan.
“Our goal is to make sure Michigan’s rich outdoor traditions continue for generations to come,” Pedigo said. “The best way to connect with nature is to physically interact with it. Now that spring’s here, it’s a great time to get out and start exploring.”
And fortunately, here in southeast Michigan, there’s no shortage of things to do. Pedigo suggests these creative, family-oriented ways to take full advantage of the longer days and the (gradually) warming temperatures.
Morel of the story
Morel mushroom hunting can be both a fun excuse to spend a day in the woods and a profitable adventure – hobbyists will pay up to $8 per pound for the flavorful fungus. The problem is, morels grow in different places every year, and successful hunters rarely share where the best spots are.
One expert suggested the Ortonville Recreation Area and the Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area, both in northern Oakland County. The secret, apparently, is to find old orchards and rich, sandy soil – and look for other people walking in woods carrying mesh bags. Kids love the thrill of the hunt, and their sharp little eyes are perfect for spying the elusive mushrooms popping up under dead leaves.
Technically, you don’t have to wait for spring to take a trip over MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle, but this is definitely one of the best times of the year to do it. The botanical garden outside the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is one of the city’s hidden gems, with every color of the visual spectrum exploding in floral glory.
If you prefer your plant life a little wilder, the woods behind the Belle Isle Nature Center provide hours of urban trail exploring, and who knows, you just might run into one of the herds of fallow deer that live there. And if those April showers come, you can zip inside the Belle Isle Aquarium to get up close and personal with some of Michigan’s native fish, such as the lake sturgeon, which can also be found in the Detroit River right outside.
If looking at those fish behind the glass on Belle Isle awakens your inner angler, you’re in luck. Metro Detroit is home to plenty of lakes, rivers and streams that will give you a chance to teach your kids how to bait a hook – or, you know, attach a lure if you’re averse to worms. Trout season starts the last Saturday of April, giving you a jump on all the wannabe Hemmingways out there who’ll be clogging the waterways for Free Fishing Weekend, which this year will be June 9-10. Fishing is a novel way to literally put nature in your kids’ hands – and, as an added benefit, every fishing license sold in Michigan goes toward the conservation of our natural resources.
Did that botanical garden on Belle Isle get your green thumb itching? Well, then make plans to head down to Eastern Market for Flower Day (this year on May 20) to get some ideas for this year’s garden. The market features 15 acres of hearty flower varieties, and merchants are well-equipped to provide strategies for those who don’t know a begonia from a rhododendron. And gardening is more than just a good way to get in some low-impact exercise – it’s also an opportunity to teach your kids about life cycles. From seeds or bulbs come sprouts, then shoots, then buds, then flowers, followed by pollinating insects and hummingbirds. Flower gardens are an easy way to get your kids’ hands dirty … and add a little curb appeal to your home, to boot.
Family (in the) tree
If you’ve got a little bit of a budget, the Adventure Park at West Bloomfield is an interesting way to commune with Michigan trees. The course features climbing ropes, aerial challenge routes and zip lines, and will make for a great family picture to post as your new Facebook cover photo. Visitors are bound to see all kinds of animals from both the tree and ground level, including birds, squirrels, chipmunks and deer. Adventure Park opens for the season on April 27 and has a new Junior Park this year that can help kids as young as 3 channel their inner Tarzan.
How will you be enjoying the outdoors this spring in Detroit with your family? Share it with us in the comments below!