Looking for ways to enjoy the beauty of nature while sticking close to home? Macomb County is packed with parks brimming with urban wildlife that provide both an educational experience and a chance for families to bond.
“Getting out into nature can bring families together and can help teach us something new with each visit,” Julie Champion, the Eastern District Interpretive Supervisor with the Huron Clinton Metroparks, says. “Nature (also) provides people with opportunities to explore and see wildlife including rare and unique species.”
Macomb County, for example, is home to many different habitats including coastal marshes, river floodplains, wet prairies, wet swamp woods and dry oak-hickory woods, Champion adds. And, since the county has such a diverse set of habitats, it also has a diverse array of plant and animal life.
“(The) diversity in our natural areas allows residents to observe a large variety of wildlife — from the Great Blue Herons nesting high in the trees and fishing in our waterways, the threatened Tern species on Lake St. Clair shorelines, Bald Eagles nesting in the pine trees at Stony Creek Metropark to beavers building their lodges along the Clinton River,” Champion explains. “Look in our woodlands for spring wildflowers, search meadows for butterflies in the summer, diving beetles in the river, and listen for frogs calling in our ponds and other wetland. These are just a few of the things you can find in Macomb County nature areas.”
Spots to visit
Like the diversity in its habitats, Macomb also has a wide variety of options for those looking to enjoy nature more.
You can start younger kids off with a nature scavenger hunt in their backyard (Looking for a list? the Metroparks offer a hunt list for younger kids and group hunt for older kids, too). If they love it there, consider taking them to one of the larger parks in the area including Stoney Creek, Lake St. Clair and Wolcott Mill Metroparks, which offer interpretive programming and nature events throughout the year along with ample opportunities for hiking, biking and canoeing.
Other top spots, according to Champion, are Shelby Township’s Burgess-Shadbush Nature Canter and the Sterling Heights Nature Center. You can also visit the nature trails available in the majority of the county’s townships and even Wetzel State Park.
Exploring with kids
Once you have chosen a park or place to visit, Champion encourages nature-seekers to use all of their senses while exploring.
“Using your different senses can give clues to what kind of wildlife you may be looking for or what was once there,” she says. “Listen for birds, frogs and insects calling, then look for what animal made those sounds; search for animal tracks, nests, dens and burrows or other signs that an animal had been there or lives nearby; walk near a field and sniff out a milkweed flower where there may be a Monarch caterpillar munching on its leaves; and touch the fuzzy leaf of a mullein plant, which provides space for insects that then provides food for birds like the chickadee.”
You can also taste mint leaves or other plant life but only if you know that a plant isn’t poisonous or otherwise harmful.
In addition, Champion suggests families take photos and make memories by participating in activities such as leaf rubbing or journaling about the experience as you’re having it.
“Look at the weather and dress appropriately, bring sunscreen or bug repellent (depending on the time or year), grab a trail map to avoid losing your way and be sure to bring water,” she says. ” Before you visit, research the rules of the park, including if you can bring a dog on the trails or into buildings.”
Be aware of what poisonous plants look like and do not remove items from the park, she adds. Also, check ahead and see if the park is offering any programming on the day of your visit.
For more tips on exploring nature in Macomb County, visit the Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development at Make Macomb Your Home and for more information on Metroparks visit metroparks.com.