Southeast Michigan is home to 13 Metroparks that offer the best in family-oriented recreation including playgrounds, swimming, paddling, hiking, biking and much more — all on thousands of acres of protected land.
The Huron-Clinton Metroparks were designed to be available to everyone, but, for various reasons, they’re not always accessible to all. That’s changing thanks to a variety of initiatives, according to Metroparks Director Amy McMillan.
“The core of our Metroparks mission is to provide exceptional outdoor recreation and educational opportunities for all who call southeast Michigan home,” McMillan says. “All means all — regardless of race, age, gender, sexual orientation, income level, ethnicity or ability. We want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to experience what the Metroparks have to offer.”
To reach that goal, Metroparks are encouraging families to take advantage of the Michigan Activity Pass Program, which allows library card holders to “check out” a daily vehicle park pass to visit a Metropark. This unique program is as easy as checking out a book from your local public library.
For kids and adults of all abilities, Maple Beach Playground at Kensington Metropark in Milford has rubber surfaces and ramped access, plus transfer access to all four slides. It’s the first of its kind in the Metroparks and unique even in southeast Michigan. For boaters who need flexibility, Stony Creek Metropark in Shelby Township has a fully accessible floating boat launch, and others are planned at additional Metropark locations.
“We have a lot of projects in the works that relate to accessibility,” says Nina Kelly, chief of planning and development at the Metroparks. For family members who find natural trail surfaces difficult to navigate, a grant project at Oakwoods Metropark in New Boston is funding accessible trail loops and other amenities.
The Metroparks recognize that accessibility relates not just to the big projects, but to restrooms, too. “Where we are not building new, we are retrofitting in many cases,” Kelly explains. “In 2019, we completed an update to our ADA transition plan, which details how we will make improvements to increase accessibility. That applies to handles on restroom doors, grab bars and countertops.”
New public transportation option
Like many amenities in southeast Michigan, the Metroparks are available to those who have access to a vehicle, but not so easy to reach using public transportation. Now, through a pilot initiative from the Metroparks and SMART, families can access Lake St. Clair Metropark near Harrison Township using public transportation. The program is the first-ever public transit connection to a Metropark and offers a low-cost solution for families to visit this popular natural resource.
Families can use their regular bus route to get to Gratiot and 15 Mile Road in Clinton Township, then use the Metropark Express for the last few miles to Lake St. Clair Metropark. The Metropark Express is an on-demand service available through the SMART Flex app or by telephone and costs $2 per rider age 5 or older each way, or is free if transferring from a SMART bus route. Riders do not have to pay to enter the park.
The service drops riders off (and picks them up) at four locations within Lake St. Clair Metropark: the plaza, where the beach, pool, splash pad and park office are located; the boat launch; the nature center and trails; and the daysail area.
“The connection hub at Gratiot and 15 Mile already serves as a transfer point for several fixed bus routes, and it allows us to connect easily with those who are traveling from Warren, Sterling Heights, Mount Clemens and Detroit,” explains Kelly.
The Metropark Express is a micro-transit service much like a minivan, and is available on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. beginning on Sept. 3, 2021. The pilot runs until Sept. 5, 2022.
The initiative could lead to more in the future. “As our first micro-transit pilot, the Metropark Express collaboration with SMART will help us gather information that could lead to route services to other parks,” says McMillan.
Kelly encourages families to check in with the Metroparks often to learn of new accessibility initiatives. “We provide updates as often as possible on our website and through newsletters. Getting feedback on these projects is ideal,” she says.
It’s a great time to visit the Huron-Clinton Metroparks, and now it’s easier for more people. “Access to nature, parks, playgrounds, public lands and outdoor recreation opportunities has the incredible power to help improve our health and wellbeing — both physical and mental — and safely connect us with nature and each other, as well as bolster our local and regional economies,” says McMillan. “The Metroparks are truly magical places.”
Learn more about the Huron-Clinton Metroparks at metroparks.com.