Suburban Beauty: Holland Ponds

10 May

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It seemed as thought Winter would not let go of its stronghold over southeast Michigan. As I considered the possibility of having to wear a winter coat in May, something wonderful happened; Spring arrived! Anxious to get out and enjoy nature Kris and I paid a visit to Holland Ponds, located in Shelby Township. This park has a fascinating story. Holland Ponds 200 acres was actually three parks in the prohibition era; Green Glen, Swiss Valley and Warsaw Park. Back in the 1920’s parks along the Clinton River were popular recreation areas for Detroiters looking to escape the city; with picnic areas, live music, bars, dance pavilions, swimming and fishing, it provided great entertainment for very little money. Carloads of folks would head to the parks on hot summer days creating traffic jams on Ryan road, it is estimated that the three parks combined drew as many as 15,000 people in one day, wow! Eventually the parks were closed to the public because of contamination leakage from the nearby G&H Landfill; it was one of the worst contamination sites in the nation. The EPA swooped in and the area became an EPA Superfund site, an ecological success, in 2001 the 200 acre site was declared free of contaminants and transferred to Shelby Township; hence Holland Ponds was born.

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Today the park is home to ponds, marshland and woods, there are hiking trails, wildlife and the largest Great Blue Heron Rookery in SE Michigan. We begin our visit with a walk on the main trail, there are ponds on both the left and the right. On the left Canada Geese float silently by, an anxious mother to be sits on her nest shifting back and forth trying to find just the right spot. The muffled sound from a woodpecker calls our attention to the other pond, we watch as he pecks away in a stand of dried out reeds. In the distance we notice several turtles perched on a log getting their daily dose of sunshine. The park is filled with a series of connecting ponds, each one a different shape and size, the next one seems to be the turtle’s favorite as they are atop logs all across the pond; my favorite is the big turtle with the little one resting on his back. A Hawk calls out overhead, we look up into the powder blue sky to catch a glimpse as he flies gracefully above, a black bird with orange stripes on his wings serenades us as we stroll, frogs trill with amazing volume as gun shots penetrate the air, oh, did I mention there’s a shooting range near by? Not the best planning….. We enter an open area, wooden bird houses are mounted on posts, there is a bevy of activity as tiny birds fly in and out of the entrances. The grass has turned green seemingly overnight, the heavy rains have made it soft and lush. We hike on a dirt path into the woods, signs of spring are everywhere; wild daisies have pushed through piles of dead leaves to greet us, tiny purple flowers are intermixed in areas of patchy grass. 

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We walk until we come to the wooden stairway that leads us down the long slope of a hill, a bridge carries us across yet another pond. As Kris looks into the water he calls me over, a huge turtle rests on the bottom perfectly still, he looks ancient. The trees are full of buds, within days they will burst into bloom, bright yellow dandelions dot the landscape.The river is high and moving swiftly downstream as sunlight dances on the surface. We pause at the shoreline, the water is clear, a large fish is just below the surface. We follow the well-worn path a bit longer stopping off and on to take in the wonder of nature. If we continue on we will end up at Yates Cider Mill, no time for that today. We retrace our steps and end up close to where we started on the main path. We go right instead of left, this is where the Heron Rookery is located. We walk carefully and quietly as we stare out at towering trees, ah ha, there they are! Nests are large, there is much activity taking place. some of the chicks have already hatched and it appears to be feeding time. Parents take turns guarding the nest and feeding the babies, we watch this intimate process through the camera lens as to get a closer look. In this one area we count at least 20 nests, we observe elegant egrets as they come in for a landing  a short distance from us. Photographers with tripods and zoom lenses are here to capture the beauty. The park is filled with wildlife from deer, fox and heron to muskrats, frogs and ducks; we’ve even seen ginormous beavers here. It’s a great place to get away and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.

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Next we are heading to downtown Rochester for the Michigan Earth Day Fest. Celebrating earth-friendly habits from buying local and organic to wellness products and services, there’s something for everyone here. White tents are lined up in rows in an open area, aisle ways are crowded with pedestrians carrying cold cups of lemonade and bags of kettle corn. We meander through displays of beeswax candles carved into shapes of beehives, mushrooms and tiny animals. One booth is selling handbags, totes and notebooks made of vintage vinyl records, they’re super cool, one handy craftsperson constructs charming birdhouses and outdoor pieces from tree branches, I can’t help but stop and smell the handmade bars of soap! On my right I see three full-grown greyhounds, I make eye contact with one and cannot resist his plea to be petted. The dog is sweet and gentle and looking for a home, I try that same pleading look on Kris, but alas there will be no greyhound coming home with us today. Toward the back of the exhibits brave boys and girls don helmets and harnesses as they climb tall rock walls, they’re really good at it, the petting zoo is crowded with children longing to hold the baby goat or feed the baby camel. We indulge in free samples of granola, salsa and pickles, I think it’s time for lunch.

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We drive over to Walnut, one of our favorite restaurants, Smackwater Jack’s, has re-located from Lexington to Rochester, we have been anxious to visit the new place. The corner building is large, the interior, spacious and tastefully decorated. The menu board hangs above the register; we are happy to see the old familiar menu. We order a small New York pizza and a Greek Market Salad. Smackwater now sells local products from Cherry Republic, American Spoon and Leelanau Coffee, I check out the selection as we wait for our food. The pizza arrives showing off that famous braided crust that we love so much; crunchy outside, tender and chewy inside, it’s as good as we remembered! We grab ourselves a couple of iced coffee’s for the road, it has been a wonderful day filled with beautiful scenery and delicious food, what more could you ask for. UPDATE: Smackwater Jacks is now closed

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