Ever wonder what Michigan’s great outdoors can offer your kids? Consider the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center, run by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and open in Detroit as of July 20, 2015, your gateway.
From camping, kayaking and hunting to the Upper Peninsula’s natural wonders, this 41,000-square-foot interactive space introduces families to more than a dozen outdoor activities within hours – all without leaving the riverfront.
“We talk a lot about legacy interruption,” says OAC director Linda Walter. “If no one took you fishing as a kid, how do you take your own kids? (The OAC) is where you start.”
And this three-story former steam factory is packed to the gills.
Various outdoor features to try
Right away, you’ll be swept up by the impressive woodland displays: a pond, sand dune, working waterfall and towering oak tree are here to explore and educate. Follow the floor’s animal paw and leaf imprints to get from one exhibit to the next.
Along the way, test outdoor sports. Video game-style simulators feature real footage of Michigan trails and waterways, so kids can mountain bike trails, board a snowmobile, electronically fish from a rowboat or sit in a real kayak that mimics the feel of paddling Michigan’s winding rivers.
Curious about camping? There’s a ready-made campsite, complete with tent, pots and pans and an artificial fire to show the ropes. How about hunting? The second floor features animal pelts, skulls and taxidermy. Kids can also try out laser shot simulators and learn how to identify game by their fur. Or be a critter.
“The beaver dam is the coolest thing, in my mind, that we have,” Walter says. This life-size replica lets you poke your head into the “lodge,” which triggers a motion sensor and the chitter-chatter of beavers. Venture by life-size bear’s den, too.
Or get an aerial view of it all in a red Cessna plane, suspended at the building’s top level, and learn how the DNR fights forest fires and surveys wildlife.
Keeping the outdoor education going
To take lessons home, learn about forest regeneration and nature in your neighborhood and sustainability in your own backyard.
“As near as we can tell, it’s the first of its kind for a natural resources center in an urban area,” Walter says. It’s a public-private collaboration with the DNR and a metro Detroit real estate development company and architect firm.
From real-life archery-range lessons to special classes on kite flying, making your own snowshoes and outdoor sport safety, there’s a ton to do here. And while playing outdoors indoors might seem funny, this is just a first step.
After all, Milliken State Park is right across the street – and the Dequindre Cut trail isn’t far. Plus the area right outside is great for picnicking while watching freighters go by, and nature-packed Belle Isle is a 10-minute drive away.
Be sure to explore this trio of standout attractions at the Outdoor Adventure Center that’ll wow your family.
1. Big Pin oak tree
This 35-foot artificial tree spans all three floors! Its giant roots act as slides – or peek through a lightning strike “fissure” before ascending a spiral staircase inside the trunk. A suspension bridge between branches connects you to an elevated deer blind and interpretive signage about trees and the critters that call them home. Kids can climb in a to-scale eagle’s nest replica perched at the top (a hidden camera snaps their picture) – and flap their arms inside faux eagle wings.
2. Cave behind the waterfall
Check out Michigan’s rocks, minerals and cave-dwelling critters (be sure to listen for chattering bats). Did you know there’s a huge salt mine under Detroit? Touch and observe huge chunks of salt provided by the Detroit Salt Co. They’re heavier than they look!
A 3,000-gallon tank creates a wall of fresh water full the Great Lakes State’s many fish. Pop your head in the inverted bubble for a better look – and peek up at a 14-foot-long simulator to feel like you’re walking underwater.
DNR Outdoor Adventure Center
The DNR Outdoor Adventure Center is located at 1801 Atwater St. in Detroit. Its typical hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday.
Entry costs are $5/ages 13-61, $3/2-12 and 62-plus and free/under 1 and 5-8 p.m. Wednesdays twice a month only (check ahead to be sure). Fees vary for special classes. For more information, visit the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center website or call 844-622-6367.