Categories
Family Rides Mid-Mitten Cycling

Kent Lake

View of Kent Lake through the trees
View of Kent Lake through the trees

I was surprised by the number of hills on this short jaunt around Kent Lake in South Lyon/Milford. The paved Kensington Metropark Hike-Bike Trail encircling the lake climbs 350 feet in 8.5 miles. But not to worry if you have small children – you’ll find plenty to do even on a short jaunt where the path is relatively level. If you want to tackle the whole loop, small children are probably better off in a child carrier or tag-along bike, and older kids will need multi-speed bikes.

The parking lot serving the lake’s west boat launch (off High Ridge Rd. just east of the park’s Kensington Rd. entrance) makes an excellent place to start. The path in both directions from this point is relatively level, and both the nature center and boat rental center are within easy reach. There’s a $7 entry fee for vehicles; an annual pass to all 13 Huron-Clinton Metroparks costs $30. 

Begin your adventure by picking up the bike path at the west end of the parking lot, then head north. Looking left across High Ridge Rd., you’ll probably spot people with binoculars gazing at a forested island on Wildwing Lake. The island is home to a heron rookery, and the wooden causeway that serves as a viewing platform is well worth a visit from the park’s nature center up ahead.

Wall display at the Kensington Nature Center
Wall display at the Kensington Nature Center

To reach the nature center, continue on the bike path a short distance until it begins bending to the right (east). You’ll notice signs for the nature center on the adjacent road. Look for an informal path through the grass on your left that will take you to a point across from the nature center’s parking lot on High Ridge Rd. Use extreme caution while crossing the road. (You could use this lot as the base for your Kent Lake adventure, but it might be busy on weekends, and you’ll have to cross the road either way.) The nature center (open 10 to 5 Tues. through Sun., 1 to 5 Mon.) has several displays about the fish and reptiles of southern Michigan, stuffed animals, an active beehive, and more. It also offers programs for families at various spots around Kent Lake.

If you want to visit the heron rookery, you’ll need to leave your bikes at the nature center, as the nature trails are for foot traffic only. Trails extend mainly north and east, but to reach the rookery, head left (southwest) from the center, then south on a gravel road (marked as Labadie Rd. on the map). This will bring you to the wooden causeway at the edge of Wildwing Lake, paralleling the west side of High Ridge Rd and offering great views of the rookery.

Shady bench with view of Kent Lake
Shady bench with view of Kent Lake

If the kids have their own binoculars, this is a great time to use them. You might want to ask any dinosaur experts in the family which dinosaur the herons remind them of (and if they’re really experts they’ll remind you that ancient flying reptiles are called pterosaurs, not dinosaurs). This wildlife viewing area also gives great views of the lilies and other aquatic plants growing in the shallow waters of the lake. On one visit here a sandhill crane was drawing a lot of attention as it nestled in low bushes next to the trail.

Back on the bike path, you’re now heading east around the north shore of Kent Lake. The trail passes through dense maple and oak forest, offering cool shade on a hot day. At points where the path hugs the shoreline, look for swans floating among the lily pads not far from shore.

In just under 2 miles, you’ll arrive at the Kensington Metropark boat rental docks, where the brightly colored duck and swan peddle boats are likely to grab the kids’ attention. They cost $15 per hour and seat four to five. Kayaks, canoes, rowboats and paddle boards are also available. For those who just want to dip their toes in the water, Maple Beach is just beyond the boat rental.

Kensington Metropark boat rental center
Kensington Metropark boat rental center

The steep climbing begins where the path rounds the point just past Maple Beach, a little over 2 miles from the start, so this is probably a good turnaround point for families with smaller kids on single speed bikes. If the kids really want more biking, you could return the way you came to the parking lot, then continue south and east around the lake. The path is relatively flat for about a mile in this direction, hugging the shore and offering more great views of the lake. The junction with the Island Lake Pathway makes a good turnaround point, giving you about a six-mile ride all together.

Path & bench
Kent Lake bike path on the east shore

For those continuing around the lake from Maple Beach, head up the hill, climbing steeply for half a mile onto a broad ridge jutting out into the lake. From the summit, the path descends before turning left to cross a park road, then descending steeply above a finger of the lake. Warn the kids to stay on their brakes in this steep section, as the speed limit is 10 mph.

You’ll begin climbing again almost immediately at the bottom of this hill, ascending through open grassland on a rather bumpy section of pathway. Just beyond the summit, a little over 3.5 miles from the start, a path branches left to another worthwhile side trip, the Kensington Farm Center. At a little under halfway around the lake, the farm center makes an excellent stop for a break.

Kensington Farm Center
Kensington Farm Center

The center also offers the chance to see live farm animals including goats, cattle and draft horses, maple sugaring demonstrations in March, and a 150-year-old restored barn. You can even take a hay ride on weekends and holidays (noon to 4; $5 for adults, $3 for children and seniors, free for kids under 2).

Back on the trail, the path dips steeply once more, then crosses a narrow neck of Kent Lake on a bridge shared with Buno Rd. Just beyond, where the path runs next to a cloverleaf of roads at the junction of Buno and Huron River Pkwy., look for a path intersecting from the left. This is the Milford Trail, a paved bike path that leads 4 miles to Milford and scenic Hubbell Pond. Even if you don’t want an eight mile side trip, the wildlife viewing station at Windfall Bay just half a mile north on this trail makes a worthwhile jaunt. There’s a display showing the different birds and animals you’re likely to see and a free spotting scope you can use to view the ospreys (fish eagles) nesting on a platform a hundred yards off shore.

Splash-n-Blast
Splash-n-Blast

Back on the main Kent Lake bike path, the trail runs through wooded hills, traveling between Kent Lake on the right and Huron River Pkwy. on the left. At 5.75 miles, you’ll arrive at Kensington Metropark’s Splash-n-Blast. This water park features two 250-foot circular slides (for kids taller than 48 inches) and splash zones. The facility is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 24 through Labor Day and costs $5 for adults, $4 for kids 2 and over, and free for kids under 2.

From the water park, the path turns more to the west and the roar of the I-96 freeway grows as you approach this ribbon of concrete. At the point where you’re closest to the freeway, a path forks to the left, passing under the freeway and entering Island Lake State Recreation Area. The Island Lake Pathway extends for 4.25 miles through a mix of open grassland, cedars, huge oak trees, and a rare (for southern Michigan) stand of pines, ending at a parking lot with a beach volleyball pit. This may not be a worthwhile detour for most families, but the recreation area offers alternative parking for those with a state Recreation Passport who want to avoid paying the county park entry fee.

Geese and goslings
Geese and goslings

Continuing on the Kent Lake path, at 8.5 miles you’ll return to the lot where you started. If the kids are up for more adventure, there’s still plenty to do: you could try your luck at the fishing pier, launch your own boat from the ramp at the lot’s north end, or just have a picnic at one of the shelters. Whatever you choose, you’ll have a perfect Michigan day at Kensington Metropark.


 

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Categories
Family Rides Mid-Mitten Cycling

Lansing River Trail

Splash zone at Hawk Island Park
Splash zone at Hawk Island Park

This is the first post in the series, “Best Family Rides of Mid-Michigan.” And what better place to begin than the Lansing River Trail? With a splash zone, a historic swimming pool, playgrounds, lakes, paddling, fishing, Potter Park Zoo, museums, and Old Town, all connected by a scenic paved path passing through woods and along streams, there’s plenty for both grownups and kids to enjoy along the way.

Create Maps or search from 80 million at MapMyRide

Before starting your Lansing River Trail adventure, it will help to consider how much of the trail you plan to do. Borrowing from long-distance hiking terminology, are you a “through-biker” who wants to complete the whole trail in one day? Or are you a “day-biker” who wants to break up the trail into smaller pieces or just hit the highlights? (If you feel you must cover every inch of the 25 miles marked as the Lansing River Trail on the map, then you’re a “completist.”)

TipsIf you’re bringing the whole family, you’ll want to consider the ages, endurance, and biking skills of the kids. For all but the oldest and most motivated of children, day-biking is probably the best option. Pick a starting point with fun activities nearby, stop for more fun at the many play structures along the way (marked with blue numbers on the MapMyRide map), and finish the day with the kids wanting to come back for more.

Several parking areas are marked on the MapMyRide route, but probably the best choice is the large lot at Hawk Island Park off Cavanaugh Rd. The only problem might be that the kids will never want to get on their bikes, with the playground, paddle boats, fishing, and splash park all in one place. (Through-bikers could park a scant mile farther south at the recently developed Maguire Park.)

A shady stretch of the Lansing River Trail
A shady stretch of the Lansing River Trail

Assuming you can convince the young ones to leave the delights of Hawk Island, head north on either side of the large lake at the center of the park. Beyond the lake, you’ll continue north at the first junction (left or right, depending on your approach). This is the greenest section of the trail, with a canopy of trees overhead and Sycamore Creek nearby. Bear right at the next junction, where a path to Scott Woods Park parking lot heads left. Then bear left twice where paths branch off to the right, one to a dog park and the other, unmarked, to Willard Ave. Beyond, bridges cross Sycamore Creek twice, making for some scenic views, with benches for those in need of rest.

At just under the two mile point, you’ll come to a crosswalk at Mt. Hope Ave., where you’ll want to have the kids together. If only there were sidewalks on Mt. Hope, Fenner Nature Center would be an easily accessible side trip. Maybe one day, if the “complete streets” vision becomes a reality.

Sycamore Creek
Sycamore Creek

Continuing north, the trail parallels Aurelius Rd. for a quarter mile before descending to a T-intersection (2.25 miles north of your starting point). A right turn here will take you under Aurelius and along a scenic section of the Red Cedar River, but beware of washouts from spring flooding, especially on the downhills coming off the bridges. Fortunately, a new group, Friends of the Lansing River Trail, has been formed to help the city address these maintenance issues.

In a third of a mile from the T-intersection, a brand-new but unmarked segment of asphalt turns right. Another third of a mile along this new stretch of trail brings you to Fidelity Lake in the middle of Ralph Crego Park. This newly developed 15-acre lake offers a less crowded experience than the lake at Hawk Island, with a fishing pier, dock, and other access points.

fishing pier
Fidelity Lake fishing pier

The stretch of the River Trail east of the Fidelity Lake junction is less scenic, with numerous railroad and freeway overcrossings, and one stretch running next to a freeway interchange. But if you’re a completist, another three-quarters of a mile will bring you to the Clippert Rd. parking area, and another mile beyond that, the MSU campus. (The segment of the River Trail through campus is currently being reconstructed.) [UPDATE 10/2/14: The reconstruction project through campus (as far as Farm Lane) has been completed and the new path is very nice! However, when the university is in session, watch out for pedestrians ignoring the “no pedestrians” signs on the path. It can be quite crowded.]

Lansing River Trail camels
A free view of the camels at Potter Park Zoo.

For those who choose to go left at the T-Intersection next to Aurelius Rd., Potter Park Zoo is just ahead (2.5 miles from your starting point at Hawk Island). If you’re here in spring before the trees leaf out, you might get a free view of the camels from a bridge over the Red Cedar just before the zoo. Potter Park also features picnic shelters and a large play structure.

art
Art along the trail.

Potter Park is a good spot to assess whether you want to go farther. As a parent who took both my sons on “death marches” in the mountains and deserts, I know how easy it is to cross the line from “wow, I biked farther than I thought I could” to “I never want to bike again.” The next real points of interest, the museums and the City Market, are over two miles away, and the ride there begins with a steep climb on the bridge over Pennsylvania Ave.

If you do press ahead, the trail wends its way along the Red Cedar and through an industrial part of town. [UPDATE 10/2/14: As Tom notes in a comment below, take care where the path descends to cross under roads next to the river. The sight lines on these underpasses are poor and the corners are tight. Ringing your bell as you approach these blind corners will help.] A mile from Potter Park, a trail branches left over the Red Cedar to Scott Park, with a play structure and a fishing point where the Grand and Red Cedar rivers meet.

natatorium
JH Moores Memorial Natatorium (photo courtesy Lansing Dept. of Parks & Recreation)

Beyond Scott Park, this side branch crosses the Grand River twice, passing GM’s Grand River Assembly Plant and the Eckert Power Station and reaching Moores Park in one mile (5 miles from your starting point). This park offers tennis, shuffleboard, a play structure, and popular fishing spots along the river. Most impressively, the park is home to the JH Moores Memorial Natatorium (or simply the “Moores Park Pool”). Built in 1922, the pool is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the only public pool of its kind still in use. Lansing can be proud that such a gem is still in operation, and there’s a campaign to raise funds for its continuing upkeep.

Eckert Station
Eckert Power Station from Moores Park

Moores Park also features impressive views of the Moores Park Dam and hydroelectric plant and the imposing Eckert Power Station across the river. Sure, Eckert is a filthy, climate-change-inducing beast, but with the power of rushing water from the dam and the three concrete towers of the power station looming above it all, this is one of the most sublime spots in the region. Those who know my other writing might think I’m kidding, but I’m not: those smokestacks are 615 feet high, by far the tallest things anywhere around. We’re desperate for any kind of vertical relief in these parts. Maybe once the Board of Water & Light fully decommissions the plant (currently scheduled for 2025), the towers could be turned into a big outdoor climbing gym.

Continuing north on the main River Trail from the Scott Park junction, you’re now following the Grand River downstream. The trail passes under the many spans of the 496 freeway, and in another mile comes to the back of the R.E. Olds Museum  with its murals of automobiles. Just beyond is the Impression 5 Science Center, another great stop for kids, and the Riverwalk Theatre. This cultural complex is 4.75 miles from your start at Hawk Island (assuming you’ve ridden directly to this point).

Ottawa Street Station
The old Ottawa Street Station, a classic building preserved and renovated to house Accident Fund Insurance

If you’re getting hungry, the many restaurants along Michigan Ave. and Washington Square in downtown Lansing are easily reached by leaving the River Trail and heading up Museum Dr. to Michigan Ave. The Lansing City Market, a quarter mile ahead on the River Trail, is another food option, with the Waterfront Bar & Grill and food vendors (though many of the latter are closed on Sundays).

River Town Adventures
River Town Adventures launch site

Another attraction at the City Market is River Town Adventures, a canoe and kayak rental and livery service that opened in late May of this year. It costs $10 to rent a kayak ($18 for a canoe) for an hour of paddling on the flat water at the City Market launch site. The company also offers a variety of longer adventures where they’ll take you by bus farther up- or downstream. Another paddling option is Power of Water, a paddling store that offers clinics on the Grand (but no rentals) for both kayak and stand-up paddleboard. It’s a block off the River Trail at Saginaw.

Beyond the City Market, the River Trail passes beneath Shiawassee, Saginaw, and Oakland avenues before arriving at Brenke Fish Ladder and the North Lansing Dam. This is another great spot to experience the power of rushing water, and in fall you’ll have a chance to watch salmon climbing the spiraling ladder.

mural
Mural in Cesar Chavez Plaza, Old Town Lansing

Just a short distance farther is the Cesar Chavez Plaza and parking area at Old Town (just under six miles from Hawk Island). Old Town is known for its restaurants, shopping, and especially its art galleries. There’s gourmet popcorn at Cravings and ice cream at Arctic Corner. The popular Preuss Pets, with its displays of rare reptiles, fish, and birds, is only a couple of blocks away on Grand River Ave.

Unfortunately, the Turner Dodge House, just a quarter mile north of Old Town via the River Trail, is closed until further notice due to a water pipe break (another victim of the harsh winter of 2013-14). But the house does look grand from the outside, and a nice park surrounds it. It also offers a small parking lot next to the trail, so this could serve as a northern entry point for your Lansing River Trail adventure. Completists will want to take the very steep trail west along the river to the wooden sign noting the end of the River Trail.

distancesThe distance from Hawk Island Park to Old Town and back again is 12 miles (with no side trips), making it a great tour for families with older children. But with so many things to do along the way, even that might be too much to tackle in one day. You could easily break the Lansing River Trail into four or five separate adventures, each with a different starting point and different activities.

Completists looking to do everything that’s labeled “Lansing River Trail” on the map (from the end of the trail past the Turner Dodge House in the north to Maguire Park in the south to Hagadorn Ave. on the MSU campus to the east, and with side trips to Moores Park and Fidelity Lake) will have to cover 25 miles.

Whether you take one day or several to ride the Lansing River Trail, there’s something here for everyone. In fact, with so much to do along the trail, I’ve probably left something out. Feel free to leave a comment with your Lansing River Trail suggestions.


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More photos, randomly selected:

You never know who you'll find along the River Trail: cosplayers at ShutoCon outside the Lansing Center
You never know who you’ll find along the River Trail: cosplayers taking a break from ShutoCon at the Lansing Center

 

Lansing City Market
Lansing City Market

 

One of the many historic storefronts in Old Town
One of the many historic storefronts in Old Town

 

Spring paddlers on the Grand River
Spring paddlers on the Grand River

 

Icy Fidelity Lake, with members of Lansing Bike Party social riding club
Fidelity Lake, still icy in spring, with members of Lansing Bike Party social riding club

 

natatorium 2
JH Moores Memorial Natatorium exterior view

 

Teenagers enjoying the view of rushing water at Brenke Fish Ladder
Teenagers enjoying the view of rushing water at Brenke Fish Ladder

 

Impression 5
Impression 5 Science Center

 

The northern end of the Lansing River Trail.
The northern end of the Lansing River Trail.

 

Bird watching is a popular activity along the Red Cedar River and Sycamore Creek
Bird watching is a popular activity along the Red Cedar River and Sycamore Creek

 

The southern end of the Lansing River Trail at Jolly Rd.
The southern end of the Lansing River Trail at Jolly Rd.

 

Categories
Hilly Rides Mid-Mitten Cycling

The Four Faces of Egypt Valley

Knapp St.
The gentle hill on Knapp St. NE, west of the Grand River.

You have to figure, any place that’s called Grand Rapids has to have some hills, right? A search of routes on MapMyRide revealed that Roselle Park in Ada Township is a good place to start. From there, you can go up the hills east and west of the Grand River on Knapp St. and connect to even steeper hills on Egypt Valley Rd.

Since this route goes four directions from the summit of Egypt Valley Rd. at Knapp St., I’ve named it the Four Faces of Egypt Valley, in honor of my hometown’s Five Faces of Mt. Soledad. (I never did that route, having the legs for only the easiest face!)

The route starts from Roselle Park on Grand River Dr. NE in Grand Rapids (just east of Meijer Gardens). The park has porta-potties and two old concrete silos. One has been converted to a rock climbing wall, and the other has stairs leading to a viewpoint at the top. Just what you’ll need after completing several loops of this course!

From the park, we begin with an easy warmup of a couple of miles on Grand River Dr. heading north. You’ll notice a paved sidewalk on the east side of the road. That’s the Ada Township Non-Motorized Trail. When I rode here on a Saturday, the trail was clogged with joggers, while cyclists were rightly sticking to the road. Later, I saw some casual cyclists on the trail.*

Catamount Trail
Where you’re not wanted:
Catamount Trail at Grand River Dr.

After one mile on Grand River, you’ll see Catamount Trail on the left. This is a private road, so not recommended unless you’re a resident or guest of folks living in the Ridges community. I’m a bit of an anarchist, so I rode in anyway. The gate was open, so I figured why not? I was eager to try those hills! They were satisfyingly steep, but I found the gate closed on Knapp Court at the top and had to walk around through the landscaping (being careful not to step on any of the flowers). The official route continues another mile up Grand River Dr. to Knapp St NE.

Turning left on Knapp St., you’ll begin a climb of 140 feet in 1.3 miles. It’s gentle – around a 2% grade. The climb flattens out when you reach the Knapp Reformed Church on the right. Just beyond the church, turn left on Knapp Ct. for even more, and steeper, hills. This road curves back eastward and gives you a couple of good dips (some of which aren’t shown on the MapMyRide elevation profile) before you reach the upper entrance to the Ridges at Catamount Trail. Turn around in the circle here; this is also a good spot for a break.

Return to Knapp St. NE and head back down the hill eastward, the way you came. You’ll cross Grand River Dr. and then go across the Grand River itself. (There were construction delays when I rode here in early July 2013.) Crossing Pettis Ave., the route begins climbing again. This hill offers 240 feet of climbing in 1.75 miles. If you’re looking for consistent climbing, you might be disappointed by the dip where Knapp crosses Egypt Valley Rd. Turn around when you reach Woodrick Hill NE – beyond this point, Knapp St. rolls more gently.

Returning to Egypt Valley Rd., you have a number of options: add more out-and-backs on Knapp St. and Knapp Ct. (as I did when I rode this route), turn one way or the other on Egypt Valley, or grab some refreshment at Grams General Store.

To follow our route, turn right, north, on Egypt Valley Rd., descending steeply into bucolic Egypt Valley. Across the valley, you’ll start the steepest climb on the route, up to 4-Mile Road. MapMyRide says it’s only 3% but I’d swear it’s steeper, more like 6 or 7 percent in spots. You’ll climb 180 feet in a little under a mile. Turn around at 4-Mile Rd. and return the way you came, climbing steeply back up to Knapp St. (Now maybe you should take that break at Grams General Store!)

Egypt Valley Road near Grand Rapids
Egypt Valley Rd. offers some nice scenery
to go with the suffering.

Continue across Knapp on Egypt Valley, carrying your speed for the sharp roller ahead of you. After this dip, a long descent puts you in another beautiful but unnamed valley, part natural wetland, part estate homes. After one more short hill, it’s all easy pedalling on Egypt Valley to Pettis Avenue. If you’re feeling like you’ve had enough hills at this point, turn right on Pettis, which will curve around on level terrain back to the bottom of the hill on Knapp St.  But to complete the Four Faces of Egypt Valley, you’ll need to turn around here and head back up Egypt Valley Rd. to Knapp.

Whichever way you choose to return, turn left on Knapp St. and re-cross the Grand River. Turn left immediately on Grand River Dr. for an easy cool-down back to Roselle Park and a bit of bouldering (siloing?).

Climbing wall in Roselle Park
Climbing wall in Roselle Park

This route gives you 650 feet of climbing. If you add another out and back on Knapp St. and Knapp Ct. that should put you at nearly 1,000. Gluttons for suffering can add more laps as they please.

Grand Rapids cyclists, what are some of your favorite hilly routes. Leave your suggestion in the comments below!

*Tangential Comment #1: Riding around Lansing and environs, I’ve noticed that drivers will almost always go way over in the other lane to give you lots of room, and will slow down behind you if there’s a blind curve or hill. In contrast, more of the drivers on Grand River and Knapp St. in Grand Rapids either passed close or moved dangerously into the other lane, even when they couldn’t see on-coming traffic. I don’t think this is because Lansing drivers are better or more friendly. I think it’s because drivers in Grand Rapids see the non-motorized trail and think, “Why the hell isn’t the cyclist over on the bike path?” But given the dangers of joggers, blind corners, and blind intersections with driveways, I’d say any cyclist who’s riding faster than 10 mph should be in the road. Ada Township should consider completing its streets with car lanes, bike lanes, and sidewalks, accommodating all three types of road users. Or, at the least, put up some “share the road” signs.


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