Tag Archives: Clinton River

The Burbs: Natural History…

17 Jun

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Sometimes you just want to be out in nature; fortunately the metro area has plenty of options. Today we’ll enjoy the beauty of nature and explore some amazing local history in the Shelby Twp, Rochester area. Our journey begins at River Bends Park, covering nearly 800 acres the park offers ball fields, soccer fields, trails for walking, hiking and biking, an archery range and rental pavilions. Let’s start at the Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center. Just outside the building we find a beautiful garden, I can’t resist gardens. A sign tells us this section is filled with deer-resistant plants, I find that a hopeful statement… Barberry shrubs are vibrant colors, several stunning varieties of Iris are in bloom, the purple Columbine are so pretty. Inside a gated area we find an attractive combination of annuals and perennials, I’ve never seen a smoke flower before, poppies are ready to burst open, white anemone, pink hardy geraniums bloom on this late spring day.

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Inside the nature center a large stone fireplace, picture windows overlooking the woods and knotty pine make us feel like we’re up north. Aquariums hold lizards, snakes, a leopard frog (I think he’s awesome) and other amphibians. I get a kick out of watching turtles swim, two are stacked on top of each other in a roomy tank by the wall. Displays identify different species of turtles, birds and rodents. Maps mounted to a wall show us the parks of the 1920’s-30’s; have you heard of Swiss Valley, Green Glen or Broadway? Look at the way the river twists and turns. It seems the Clinton River was the top recreation spot for people living in Detroit back in the day. In the next room photos and descriptions lay out the history of the area, pretty fascinating stuff. From 1850-1864 part of the land was Spring Hill Farm. Landowners Sarah and Peter Lerich were known for their strong views on anti-slavery. Peter dug a spring for the farm and enlarged the spring house to form a cavity that could hide several people, a large Cedar tree atop the spring house was known as the Beacon Tree, marking it as a station on the Underground Railroad.

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In 1939 Joe Louis purchased Spring Hill which was then a well-known riding establishment; he was an avid horseback rider. Mr Louis made many changes to the farm; he added a track at the bottom of the hill for horse shows along with bleachers and box seats. The house was renovated and made into a restaurant and nightclub (really!) I saw a photo of an old postcard featuring the house with a map of the location, it reads: Joe Louis’ Spring Hill Farm “A Good Place To Eat And Drink”. I’ll bet it was something to see! He used the farm as a training camp to prepare for fights. He lost the property due to financial difficulties, the Michigan Conservation Department purchased the property in 1944.

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In another section of the park the first large Public Works project in Michigan was getting underway in 1838; the Clinton and Kalamazoo Canal. The canal would have made it possible to cross Michigan by boat from Lake St. Clair to Lake Michigan. Lack of finances ended the project in 1843 after only 12 miles of the canal were completed. Evidence of the canal can be found in several places. Walking from photo to photo one in particular grabs my attention. In 1957 the farm became one of four Nike Missile Bases in the Detroit area. It was manned by members of Battery B-516th AAA Missile Battalion until 1964. In 1974 the Michigan DNR regained control of the land and added it to the Rochester/Utica state recreation area. 

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Time to get out in the fresh air. We follow the back stairway down the steep hill to the Boardwalk Trail, the sky has cleared, we are surrounded by tranquility. Mushrooms sprout from fallen trees, everything around us is green and lush, woodland flowers are in bloom, it looks as if the boardwalk will be enveloped by plants soon. The trail leads us through the Tamarack Swamp, deer travel the ridge trail above us, sweet honeysuckle scents the air. The trail ends at the river, the water level is high, we turn around, going back the way we came. Extending our time outdoors we head east following the old forgotten trail along the ridge. The terrain changes from grassy to sandy to forest. Birds sing, deer are busy eating but take off as we approach. Remnants of the past are found in piles of railroad ties, concrete pads, partial structures of things that fell down or burned down over the years. The land has come full circle and is wild again.

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It’s Tuesday, if we time it right we can get over to Bloomer Park in Rochester Hills and watch the cyclists practice at the International Velodrome. The IVBP is an outdoor, 1/8 mile/200m oval with banking from 13-44 degrees. Paid for with private donations and built by volunteers from the cycling community, it was given to the city of Rochester Hills. A lone bicyclist is taking laps on the track. We get right up to the railing and have a good look, the bank looks steep to me but the rider handles it effortlessly. Kris notices a tunnel that leads to the center of the track, we traipse down the hill, find an asphalt path and enter the interior of the track. Wow, this is cool. More riders have arrived, they’re putting on their equipment as we wander over to them. One strikes up conversation with us, he lets me lift his bike, at less than 15 lbs I’m shocked at how light it is. All three riders are out on the oval now, they stay in pack form as we watch, each lap takes them a little higher. There are races here every Friday night throughout the summer, we’ll have to come back and catch one.

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Exploring the park further we find ourselves at the stone shelter, to me it looks like an old ski lodge. Built during the depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps, it’s made up of big stones, wood-shingle roof, wood ceiling, the far wall is a fireplace; so charming. We walk around inside then out the back to the balcony overlooking the park; you can follow the nearly 200 steps to the bottom of the hill. Did you know there was a ski jump right around here in the 1920’s? The story goes like this, ski jumping was very popular during the roaring 20’s, 6 brothers from Ishpeming MI formed the Detroit Ski Club in 1925, purchased 11 acres of land from the Newberry Farm on Bloomer Rd then spent $40,000 to build a competition-grade ski jump standing 112 feet atop Newberry Hill’s 230 ft elevation. More than 10,000 people attended its inaugural competition. The jump was destroyed by high winds in 1934 and rebuilt, it was destroyed again by winds in the 40’s, it was never replaced. 

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I’m hungry. A few minutes later we’re standing in line at Lipuma’s Coney Island on Main Street in downtown Rochester. We’ve been coming here forever and are never disappointed. I order the food, Kris grabs a table, a moment later my tray is loaded with food. It’s beautiful out on the deck, we relax to the sound of the river flowing by and the chatter of ducks. It doesn’t take long for us to polish off our food; 2 tacos for me, a Chicago dog and a Mexican dog for Kris. This is good stuff. For dessert we head to Dino’s Cookie Dough Bar on University. With more than a dozen flavors it’s not an easy decision, thank goodness they give you samples to try; butterscotch it is. A sweet ending to a great day.

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Clinton River Ridin’

22 Jul

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Mount Clemens…ish

12 Aug

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It’s another day of exceptional weather here in metro Detroit, let’s get out and enjoy it. Not far from downtown Mt Clemens in Macomb County we are visiting George George Memorial Park off of Moravian in Clinton Township, this is not your average park! A tall fountain faces Moravian, water spills from a large basin into a shallow pool, grass is green and freshly mowed, landscape shrubs hug the arborvitae fence line. Just inside the gate we park the Jeep, the sun spreads warmth across our face and shoulders as we make our way to a pond on the left. At least a dozen ducks stand on the shoreline as others leisurely paddle through the water, we traverse the outside edge of the pond encountering look outs and seating areas along the way. A main walking path is paved, it takes you through the center of the well manicured, landscaped grounds; a large playscape to the right entertains children of varying ages, Black Eyed Susans bloom in perennial beds.

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The fountain plaza is delightful; jets of water shoot skyward from an elevated pool, water pours over the sides into a recessed area, more water flows over and out of boulders. Trees and other greenery sprout from a little center island, singular arcs of water criss-cross the narrow canal on the backside. Lush hostas thrive in shady areas while tall grasses take satisfaction in the bright sun. A photographer takes photos of a baby boy in this perfect setting. The further we walk the more natural the landscape becomes; wildflowers take the place of formal gardens, fields substitute lawns. The ground becomes a bit marshy, a natural pond is off to one side while the earth slopes upward on the other. A footbridge crosses the Clinton River, the sides are dense with trees, branches lean toward the water, a vehicle bridge is in the distance. We cross a couple more bridges over smaller waterways, the only sounds we hear are insects. The path ends as the property nears Groesbeck, time to turn back.

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A different photographer is taking pictures of a woman on the bridge, what a lovely background, it’s a perfect day for photos. Queen Anne’s Lace and cattail grow freely in the meadow, bumble bees race from flower to flower. We pause for yet another photographer  taking a family portrait, looking over the side of the bridge we spot a tiny turtle; algae clings to his glossy shell as he rests on a branch, ducks approach to see if we have anything to feed them. Back in the center of the park the pavilion sits empty, attractive wood beams compose the ceiling, we look through open arches onto the park grounds, a cherub stands on the peak of the structure. We pass beds of beautiful daylilies in yellow, red and cream, the sound of children’s laughter is carried on the breeze. Vine-covered arches straddle the path, folks arrive with coolers and  baskets filled with goodies for a picnic lunch. The 30 acre park is an absolute gem. There are seating areas in the sun or shade, by water or gardens; it’s a perfect place to take a walk, have a picnic or curl up with a good book.

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In a few minutes time we are in Mt Clemens, the Jeep is parked in a nearby lot, we are having lunch at Three Blind Mice on Main Street. We have always been fond of this building, the current owners did a wonderful job refurbishing the now 115 year-old structure when they took it over. Originally known as The Green Tree, it opened in 1900. Inside, the walls are American Oak, the floor original Pewabic tile, the bar top is made from wood the owners removed themselves from burned houses in Detroit. The place is full of old stuff like church pews, barrels from distillery’s like Old Grand Dad, Maker’s Mark and New Holland, fixtures were rescued from Salem Memorial Church in Detroit; it’s cozy and inviting. We take a couple of seats at the bar and check out the menu; one of the owners also owns the Bad Brads restaurants, that means the food should be tasty. 

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We study the rows of bottles while we wait for our lunch to arrive, a ladder mounted to rails allows bartenders to reach every bottle, Kris spots the Blanton’s and orders a shot. I guess you’d say the signature item on the menu is the Spamwich, don’t judge till you’ve tried it: panko coated and deep-fried Spam, golden hash browns, scrambled egg, pickles and spicy mayo on toasted ciabatta–it’s really good! We split the sandwich and the Michigan cherry salad; all the usual suspects– blue cheese crumbles, dried cherries, candied walnuts with greens and a very tasty vinaigrette. Housemade dressings and sauces, Guinness Stew, cheese soup and full entrees, definitely not the average bar food.

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At one time Mt Clemens was very wealthy, know for its mineral baths, there were 11 bath houses and several hotels at its peak. The bath houses operated from 1873 until the last one closed in 1974. There was a pottery factory that employed 1000 people and a train station, both closed now. The city is also the county seat of Macomb County, home to Circuit Court, Judicial Court and law offices, keeping it an active city. Neighborhoods are filled with beautiful historic homes; Cass, S Wilson, Moross and Belleview are some of our favorite streets— let’s go for a walk. I’d say the Tudor is the most popular architectural style, brick and trim color vary from house to house, several sport awnings. Mature trees line long neighborhood streets, urns, window boxes and planters overflow with colorful annuals. Well-kept front yards are the norm, many have lovely gardens, stars and stripes grace several front porches. Walkways in brick, stone and slate lead to elegant front doors, back yards are huge.

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Homes reflect a variety of time periods and styles; Tudor,Victorian, Colonial, Farmhouse, American Foursquare, Craftsman and even Mid-Century Modern, no two are the same! The Atwood House at 53 Moross erected in 1835 is thought to be the oldest house in Mt Clemens, possibly Macomb County. A wonderful example of Greek Revival, dark green shutters and blue porch ceilings accent the gorgeous white residence.Check out the French Chateau style house at 124 Belleview, it was built in 1932 of Bedford Indiana Limestone. The Charles E Doll house at 121 Belleview was built in 1926 and is a stunning example of the English Tudor, the lot backs to the Clinton River. Catty corner at 207 Moross sits a 1931 Tudor built by another member of the Doll family. I could go on and on, but instead, why not take a ride to Mt Clemens, park on one of the charming streets and experience it for yourself.

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Suburban Gems: Dodge Park Trails & Historic Utica

20 Jul

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Psssssssttt, I have a secret to tell you. There is a place you can go in Sterling Heights where there are no strip malls, Wal-Mart or traffic lights; a place where deer roam freely, the Clinton River runs clear and you can be at one with nature, it’s called Dodge Park. Actually, it is a series of parks that are linked together by bike paths and trails leading you from Sterling Heights to downtown Utica. If you have never visited these parks, wait no longer.

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We ride here often and like to begin at the start of the trail; Clinton River Park South.  Keep your eyes open; just west of Schoenherr on Clinton River Road you will come across Edison Court; at the end you’ll find the trail entrance. As soon as you begin pedaling on the asphalt path you are greeted with a sense of tranquility. It’s astounding how quickly you are immersed in nature; completely unaware of the hustle and bustle taking place outside the park boundaries; here you are literally in the woods. Pathways curve right and then left, a slight uphill and then back down. Before long the Clinton River appears on your left and the path now mimics its route. Squirrels jump from tree to tree, butterflies visit wildflowers while ducks float down the river. I like to pause at the wooden bridge that takes you into Dodge Park to see what kind of activity is taking place on the water; today the Mallard moms were out for a swim with their ducklings.  Back to pedaling we continue to head northwest, the river always in full view now, the scenery picturesque. Once known as the Huron River it was renamed the Clinton in 1824; it was the main reason for this areas early development. At one time farmers tended large farms growing wheat and corn along with apple and peach orchards; looking about, it’s not hard to imagine.  Now the Clinton River Park Trail System passes through over 460 acres of Sterling Heights parkland in Dodge, Farmstead and Clinton River North and South parks. Mature trees keep the temperatures several degrees cooler than it is outside their reach; this summer that’s a really good thing. Bikes share the path with pedestrians, roller blades and plenty of leashed dogs. Where the trail parallels Utica Rd sprawling homes take advantage of  beautiful river views. The only reminder that you are in the suburbs is when the path takes you under the M 53 freeway, but just as quickly you immersed back into the peacefulness of your surroundings. The trail had been thoughtfully laid out so you never have to cross a street; a tunnel takes you under Riverland Drive. The Sterling Heights section of the trail ends at Van Dyke, a tunnel now takes you under the multi-laned road; the city of Utica picks it up from there.

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Heritage Park is on the west side of Van Dyke just south of M 59, this is the newest section of the hike-bike trail. The park has undergone improvements and  is home to a canoe launch and fishing pier, not to mention the newly paved trail. An impressive bridge was constructed last year that at last allows us to cross the river into Utica. Where the trail ends it is a short ride through the neighborhood; a left turn and then a right we find ourselves at yet another bridge. The water moves quicker here; the sound of running water just a little louder. Passing through the decades old tunnel we arrive in Utica’s newest addition Memorial Park. Memorial has been a welcome addition to this tiny city; folks now have a wonderful place to gather. Brick pavers set the stage for modern picnic tables and benches; lush landscaping adds color and interest to the area, massive hanging baskets spill over with fragrant petunias. A stairway leads down to the river; a swing and benches invite you to sit for a while and overlook the water. On warm evenings we often take advantage of the space and find others enjoying it as well.

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A short ride up Auburn Rd into downtown, the best hamburger around awaits you; I’m talking about The Shamrock Pub. Established in 1935 the bar has withstood a couple of fires and change of ownership through its many years. The inside is charming; wood tables and chairs, exposed brick, retro fixtures and a hint of Art Deco. This time of year you cannot beat the patio; brick pavers enclosed on three sides with low brick walls topped with planter after planter of bright red Geraniums, so pretty. The menu is simple stuff done well; just order the burger…..A side of fries is large enough for two to share, we recommend the seasoned variety. The place was doing a brisk business today, but it didn’t take long for our food to arrive. Burgers arrive open-faced on paper plates snapped into red plastic holders; a pile of lettuce tomato onion and pickle wait to be assembled between the burger(cooked over an open flame) and sesame seed bun, a pair of peppers act as garnish. No matter where we eat this is the burger which we measure all others by; this is still our favorite.

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After dinner we took a spin through the town’s historic district; the neighborhood is lovely. Houses 150 years old still stand gracefully on Cass Ave; a large Italianate home was part of the underground railroad. You will find a bit of everything here; Victorians with fancy woodwork, large colonials from the early 1900’s and small brick homes from the 30’s. Residents are proud of their city’s past; from distilleries and farms to the Utica and Romeo stage line, Utica has a surprising amount of history for a town of 1.9 square miles. With the 5 mile ride ahead of us it was time to start back; we’d had a pleasant day and a great meal….you can’t ask for a better day!

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