Kids: Get a dose of nature this summer

If being outdoors is essential for growing children, then Michigan must be the perfect playground.

“Anyone who has had the chance to walk in the woods, or catch a fish, or camp under the stars in Michigan knows just how wonderful it is to be outside,” said Matt Pedigo, chair of the Michigan Wildlife Council. “We’re so lucky to have our natural resources and are thankful for the people that work so hard to manage them.”

The Michigan Wildlife Council was created three years ago to educate the public about how Michigan’s wildlife and natural resources are managed and how those activities are funded.

The more kids can explore their environment, the more likely they are to take an active role to preserve it, experts say.

Luckily there are plenty of fun programs, camps and events to get more time outside this summer – and learn something about Michigan’s great outdoors, too.

At the Outdoor Adventure Center, you can touch a waterfall right in the center of the city along Detroit’s riverfront. Photo Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

“Up North” in downtown Detroit

Not really the outdoorsy type? Then the Outdoor Adventure Center (OAC) in the heart of downtown Detroit should be your first stop. Inside the OAC, visitors can get a taste of Michigan’s great outdoors with hands-on activities, exhibits and simulators.

“So many people want to get outside, but are unsure what to do when they get there. It’s our job to inspire you to try something new outdoors, educate you on how to do it, and then connect you with a place to do it,” said Linda Walter, OAC director.

“We have a lot of special programming in the summer to help families get outside.”

At the OAC, you can step into a fishing boat and “reel” in a big fish, “hit the trail” on a mountain bike or touch a waterfall right in the center of the city along Detroit’s riverfront. Family-friendly weekend programs include fishing, archery, fire safety, falconry, bike rides, nature exploration at nearby Milliken State Park and more.

On the last Wednesday of each month, the OAC offers Wild Over Wednesday, including special programming and free admission from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. This summer, the free events include family-friendly lawn games, camping and hiking.

This summer, 42 state parks and recreation areas will offer outdoor education programs. Photo Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Let’s go exploring

The State Park Explorer Program is another good way to get hands-on experience in the great outdoors. This summer, 42 state parks and recreation areas will offer the outdoor education programs.

From Memorial Day through Labor Day, trained explorer guides offer information at campgrounds and visitor centers on topics ranging from Michigan birds and sand dunes to insects, wetlands and more.

“Our explorer guides know the cool factor in each of their parks and love to connect people with the outdoors,” said Karen Gourlay, Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) State Park Explorer Program coordinator. “Our programs are a great way to learn a little bit more about nature.”

Special weeklong programs this summer at state parks and recreation areas will focus on fishing, reptiles and amphibians, mammals and invasive species.

Gourlay said explorer guides really go the extra mile to connect folks with Mother Nature.

“Once people are more educated about Michigan’s incredible resources, they are inspired to become better stewards of the state parks and the environment,” she said.

Many state parks and recreation areas have their own special offerings. At the Waterloo Recreation Area in Chelsea, for example, there’s plenty to see and do all day at the park’s Eddy Discovery Center.

“Typically during the week we have lots of programming at the Eddy Discovery Center. But on the weekends, that’s when we’re out and about all over the park with guided hikes, evening programs with campers, and programs about salamanders, frogs, archery, fishing, rock hunting and more,” said Katie McGlashen, park interpreter.

The Huron-Clinton Metroparks offer a multitude of opportunities for canoeing, sailing, birding, hiking, geocaching, swimming, camping and more! Photo credit: Huron-Clinton Metroparks

Get up close to nature at Metroparks

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Huron-Clinton Metroparks – one of the largest regional park systems in the nation. The system consists of 13 parks covering 25,000 acres throughout Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw and Livingston counties.

Since their creation in 1940, the Metroparks have served as a great spot for southeast Michigan residents to get away from it all.

All summer, the Huron-Clinton Metroparks offer a full calendar of events including canoeing, sailing, birding, hiking, geocaching, swimming, camping and more. There’s also a full range of summer camps where kids can explore nature.

Another great way to teach your kids about the outdoors is volunteering. The Huron-Clinton Metroparks offer opportunities to plant native vegetation, remove invasive plants, or collect seeds to be sown at restoration sites within the Metroparks.

These types of management activities take place every day across the Great Lakes state. However, many don’t realize that the primary source of funding for conservation work is hunting and fishing license dollars. Natural resource and wildlife management is not funded through state taxes.

In any event, the important thing isn’t where you go in Michigan – it’s just that you get outside somewhere.

“Great care is taken by so many people to ensure that the great outdoors will be here to be enjoyed for generations to come,” said Pedigo. “Don’t miss out.”