Seney Wildlife Refuge

Having a couple of days in Manistique, one of those days should be spent the Seney Wildlife Refuge, a vast area of protected wetlands in the middle of the U.P. Like many places in Michigan, the place was devastated by the lumber industry I the late 19th century. With the fauna destroyed, the wildlife left, and the land was unable to support farming, which was a surprise to the many farmers who were convinced to move into the wilds of very northern Michigan.

What to do? Well, we have the Great Depression to thank for that. With millions of unemployed men in the country, there was a glut of workers, but no work. But part of that problem was solved by sending them to the land southwest of Seney, MI. With the work of several years and several hundred workers, the wasted timberland was converted into a wildlife refuge in the hopes of bringing back the wildlife that had left when the lumberman came in. It worked.

Seney is now home to around 200 species of birds as well as wolves, moose, and many other types of animals. It also home to hiking trails and a wildlife drive, a road that winds through the refuge so visitors can take in the eastern section of the park.

But we'll start where everyone does, the visitor's center. Accessed from M77, the visitors center provides interesting exhibits on the history of the park and the wildlife inside. This is a great spot for kinds, with all kinds of touchable exhibits. The animal sound exhibit was also a big hit. Hopefully you'll escape without spending too much on stuffed animals and kids' books. But if you don't, it's for a good cause.

My favorite part of the visitors center was the eagle nest-spotting telescope. Across the pond by which the visitor's center sits is a tree holding an enormous eagle's nest, and you can be an eagle voyageur if you so desire. We didn't see the eagle in its nest, but we did see it flying around high above later in the day. The bird was little more than a dot in the sky, but it was still exciting to see.

As I'm a hiker, I dragged the family onto the trail that loops around closest pool. It wasn't a long trail - only about 1.5 miles - but it was just about the right distance for our crowd. Maybe slightly longer than my 6-year old wanted to do. Ok, definitely longer than she wanted, but we survived.

The trail heads north from the visitors center across an earthen causeway, then takes a left and follows the edge of the pool. If you're there at the right time, wild blueberries will be in abundance. They were for us, and were a great snack along the way. Hopefully they weren't federally protected free-range gluten free blueberries - I don't want to get in trouble. If they were, maybe the statute of limitation has run out.

The trail continues to follow the pool, running along marshes and through small stands of pine. We saw some of the trumpeter swans that the refuge is known for. And they did trumpet. The land-bound wildlife eluded us, but we were still satisfied with the things we saw. I one day hope to see a moose in the wild, but that is a dream for another U.P. trip.

Seney is a wonderful spot to enjoy a few hours of wildlife and nature. There are far more trails to enjoy, both for hikers and bikers. The wildlife drive is an excellent option for those who want to get close to nature, but not too close.

Go West-ish, Young Man - Adventures on the Hart - Montague Trail

The Hart - Montague trail is a misnomer. The trail still starts in Hart, but it goes well past Montague now. Instead, it ends somewhere between Whitehall and Muskegon, at a parking lot on McMillan Road, which is dirt. So you have a paved parking lot and a paved trail with only about twenty feet of hard-paved soil to contend with. Not so bad.

The southern part of the trail is beautifully paved. It is a smooth ride through fields and forests, by a dog camp (yes, they apparently have those) and Michigan's Adventure. On this quiet Monday ride, I rarely saw anyone south of Whitehall, and my Rubaix flew like the wind (or some equally catchy metaphor). At this section of the trail, there are long stretches with no cross streets, and you can get a nice consistent pace going and not worrying about getting mowed down by cars too much.

Entering Whitehall, the trail winds through parks and neighborhoods before it ducks behind some light industry, under a footbridge and over a road, crossing streets (watch for traffic, kids) to the Whitehall Visitors Center, previously a train depot, on the edge of White Lake. The wind whipped through my thick, luscious hair (that's sarcasm - I'm bald). It must have been what the Leonardo di Caprio's character felt on the bow of the Titanic. Before it sank, of course. After that, he would have felt wet and cold. And dead, let's not forget dead.

As you cross the wooden foot bridge into Montague, you have left the smooth area of the trail. From here on out, you will often encounter stretches of trail-width cracks and tree roots pushing up the pavement. This can make for an unpleasant trail riding experience if your seat (bike or otherwise) is not well padded. And neither of my seats are well padded, which may be too much information, but there you have it.

But don't let that deter you. The scenery is still beautiful in many places, and if you're on the trail, that means you're not in a cubicle. You'll pass by farms and fields, and there are long stretches away from towns where you can pedal and pedal and not have to stop, all without the danger of being hit by texting teenagers or eaten by lions.

My route took me to Skeels Road south of Rothbury before it was time, sadly, to turn around. But on the un-sad side, it was time for lunch, and I love eating. I had my sights on Dog N Suds in Montague, just off the trail. And as I cruised it to the parking lot, there was no waiting. Because they are closed on Mondays. That's a Hart - Montague Trail pro-tip.

This was a bitter blow - I really wanted a hot dog. Lost and confused, I roamed the streets of Montague looking for something to ease my pain. And I decided on Lipka's, a soda fountain / sandwich shop on the corner of Water and Dowling. This seemed like a decent consolation prize, so in I went, ensuring my bike was secured from all the hooligans wandering through western Michigan towns.

It's like a time warp entering the building. A soda fountain, classic table and chairs, and historical plaques - all nice, but I really liked the old stickers of Justin Bieber for sale, ones before JB became a drunken lout. Oh, the simpler times. And though the selection was small, the pulled pork sandwich was excellent, and I give it a thumbs up. I'd give it two, but one was holding the sandwich.

As I write this in October, the time for a nice bike ride on the trail is fading quickly. But there is still time, and if you're reading this during one of Michigan's three months of decent weather, then grab that bike and head over. Now. It's too nice to be inside reading blogs.

Ted Black Park, Okemos

Unless you look carefully, you'll miss this little park as you whiz past on Grand River between Okemos and Williamston, the latter holding some excellent dining options, like Old Nation, Red Cedar Grill, and Gracie's Bistro. Yes, that was a blatant plug to get some of my favorite restaurants more business. But if you look on the north side of the road between Meridian Road and Van Atta Road, next to the entrance to Red Cedar Church, you'll see a tiny parking lot with a sign reading "Ted Black Park". It's a land of wonders. Sort of.

If you're like me, you'll immediately see some government waste at work, with a handicap parking spot that serves no purpose. There are no facilities, with a completely unimproved trail, but there is a parking lot so those with a handicap sticker can be five feet closer to a trail they probably can't use.

Once on the trail, you'll see how unimproved it actually is. Roots crisscross the trail fairly regularly, and if there has been rain in the past day or two, it can be quite muddy. The trail can change based on recent storms, so be prepared to scramble over downed trees or take a detour. It's an adventure whenever you go. This is definitely a hiking boots trail - no stilettos.