We’re back in Macomb County, Sterling Heights, to be exact, re-visiting one of our favorite suburban gems, the Clinton River. Starting at Edison Ct. we hop on our vintage bikes and begin riding the path through Clinton River Park; we’ll travel about 16 miles in all, come along for the ride….The asphalt trail hugs the riverbank following the twisty path created by decades of erosion. The shady trail leads us through tunnel-like paths that run between mature trees, random shrubs and wildflowers. The park is located on a floodplain, after heavy rains it can take days for the water to recede, this year the lack of rain has left water levels low, places where water usually collects are bone dry, islands have formed here and there in the riverbed. Dodge Park, the jewel of the city, is located on the other side of the river. We journey through past Jaycee Park then under the M-53 highway, Riverland Park is next; fluffy white seedlings from cottonwood trees have collected along the edges of the path, lone joggers move to the rhythm of the music that fills their ears.
The path dips under Riverland Drive, wooden bridges keep pedestrians and bikers above the marshy ground below, we pause at the small deck that juts into the river, no fishermen here today, the water is clear and still. We steer our bikes onward, wild berries are almost ready to be picked, weeds have grown tall, chipmunks scurry from the path. Now we cross under Van Dyke into the city of Utica at Heritage Park. Clinton River Canoe and Kayak Rentals picks up here, shuttles you upstream to your drop-in point and you paddle back, sweet! Crossing the wide bridge we look down and see kids in swimsuits playing in the water, cyclists nod as they pass, a robin serenades us. We dip into a neighborhood, climb a hill, make a right and we’re crossing the river again, this time an old green iron bridge leads us into downtown Utica.
We cross Auburn Rd, this is a new section of pathway, the Clinton River Hike and Bike Trail links Utica and Shelby Twp. Immediately we are back in a tranquil park setting, the river moves lazily downstream, rhubarb plants are tall and have gone to seed. This section was just completed in December 2015, vacant land now transformed into an oasis. A steep hill takes us down to a cement block tunnel, on the other side we spill into River Bends Park. It’s absolutely gorgeous here; elevation changes, wide turns, ivy clings to tree trunks. In some sections a wooden fence lines the path, concrete gutters draw water away from the trail. We twist and turn along the fresh asphalt pavement, maples and pines watching over us, grassy areas are drenched in sunlight, benches invite everyone to take a rest.
The scenery is beautiful, we are immersed in nature, our minds free to enjoy the songs of birds, honking Canada geese, Black-eyed Susan’s, Common Milkweed, Butterfly Milkweed with its bright orange flowers, tiny daisy-like blossoms on tall weeds. The ride is gentle, parks laid out before us, one after the other, always something pretty to look at. Everyone shares the trail; pedestrians, joggers, cyclists, skaters, dog walkers and stroller-pushers all enjoy the welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday city life. I see something moving in the grass, is that a turtle or a tortise? The new section of River Bends catches up with the old, next thing we know we have reached the 22 Mile entrance of the 626 acre park. This section offers picnic areas, shelters, volleyball and horseshoe pits, a 9-hole disc golf course is set up on the east side of the river. The abandoned Historic Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal borders the eastern boundary of River Bends Park.This is where we turn around, it’s time for dinner, a new restaurant opened in downtown Utica so we’re going to check the place out.
We reach Danny J’s Brick Tavern, the building was constructed in 1901 and started life as a hardware store. Since the late 1970’s it has traded hands numerous times serving as a bar most of that time. Today the building is coated in fresh red paint, a black awning displays the tavern’s name. The attractive interior is exposed brick, wood floors, a silver tin ceiling and a wood-fired oven in the front corner; seating consists of high-top tables, booths and low tables that can be joined together for groups. Our server places our order; waiting, we look out over main street Utica, women wearing spandex carry Yoga mats as they pass on the sidewalk, couples are out for a stroll, cars come and go from parallel parking spaces. The crust on our Danny J’s Deluxe Pizza is thin, chewy and cooked to the perfect shade of brown. Generous amounts of toppings include pepperoni, sausage, bacon, green pepper, onion, mushroom, we add banana peppers, yum!
After dinner we slowly pedal our bikes to Memorial Park down by the river. The quaint setting includes gardens, brick pavers, tables, benches, a clock tower and hanging planters, don’t you love the smell of Petunias? There’s a lovely view of the river from the lower level, if you’re lucky nobody will be on the swing. After a brief rest it’s time to pedal. We go back the way we came, as the sun gets lower in the sky nature takes on a new look, the temperature has dropped, we spot a deer resting in the woods. For most of the way we don’t see another person, it’s quiet except for the sound of leaves shifting in the breeze. Ducks and geese travel in groups downriver, everybody has somewhere to go; for us it’s time to go home. It’s been a splendid evening in these magnificent parks, we’ll be back soon.