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
Nature

In Praise of Winter

Ullr
Ullr, God of Snow(?) (Wikimedia Commons photo)

We get a variety of responses when we tell people we meet in Lansing that we moved here from San Diego. Usually stunned looks of disbelief. “But why?” some will ask. “You moved from where!?” others exclaim. Then they give knowing nods when we explain the reason for our move: Diane’s job at Wharton Center for the Performing Arts. Otherwise, it would have been crazy to leave San Diego’s perfect weather, right?

Well, not really. You see, I love snow. We didn’t get much but rain in the Northern California town where I grew up, but I can still remember the glee I felt on those few days each year when a few inches of snow would cover the hills above our house. Then it was time to head up there with a big cardboard box and hope not to get chased off by the rancher who owned the sledding slope.

Two years in Montana didn’t sate my appetite for the white stuff, probably because I was too busy with grad school to really enjoy it. Little snow fell in mid-Michigan our first winter here, and last winter was just all right, with snow followed by thaw, followed by more snow. But this winter, it’s been dumping and mostly staying cold.

I like to take a bit of the credit. I’ve been praying fervently to Ullr and Skadi, Norse gods of winter and skiing. Who says prayer doesn’t work? We’re above normal for snowfall in Lansing, though not nearly at the record. My friends who dislike winter are blaming me. Christian churches have signs out front: “Whoever is praying for snow, please stop.” (I view my success as just a bit of pagan payback.)

Of course snow has its drawbacks. It makes driving difficult, if not dangerous. Biking and walking are sketchy and even downright impossible, given the poorly cleared bike lanes and sidewalks. Then there are the heating bills, the lack of fresh air when you can’t open the windows, and the tedium of having to put on multiple layers every time you step outside.

But the question is, do the positives outweigh the negatives? For me, they do. So here’s my list of things that are great about winter:

Quiet winter scene
A quiet winter scene from the ski trails
in Lake Lansing Park North

Snow sports. Cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, snowboarding, skijoring, snow-shoeing, sledding, ice skating, building snowpeople, snowball tossing, making snow angels, or just post-holing through the woods. Ice fishing. Snowmobiling (though it seems most snowmobilers head north or west). My winter outdoor activity is XC skiing. And if I enjoyed none of these activities? Winter really would suck. I’ve put together a Google map of spots for active winter outdoor activities here.

Colder is drier. I never feel colder than when it’s 35 or 40 degrees F and drizzling. Give me 20 and light snow any day. And remember the ice storm? Blame it on the warm. (Although it was darned beautiful.)

Snow makes everything brighter. Even on the darkest day, a blanket of white reflects more light, which we all need in the depths of winter. Leafless woods are dreary when the ground is bare, but with snow, they’re magical.

Cold keeps the riffraff away. At least that’s what they say in Montana. Don’t know if it really applies in Michigan, where we’re desperate for more people, riffraff or not. (And hey, Riff Raff always was my favorite character in Rocky Horror.)

Water. Unlike residents of my home state, we Michiganders know where our water will come from next year. We don’t have to worry about the entire state burning down. And we can be glad our lakes and reservoirs don’t look like this and our mountainsides don’t look like this. (Okay, we don’t have mountains in Michigan, but never mind that.)

Lake Superior ice cave
An ice cave on the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior. (US Dept. of Interior photo)

Lake ecology. We love our lakes in Michigan, but warmer temperatures and lack of snow in recent years have begun to harm the lakes in a variety of ways. This colder winter is helping to reverse that, with Lake Superior freezing for the first time since 2009. And that not only helps the ecology, it’s also beautiful.

Isle Royale wolves. Related to the previous point, the ice bridge between Canada and Isle Royale has formed for the first time in years. That creates an opportunity for new wolves to join the island’s dwindling pack, giving it a much needed boost in genetic diversity.

Summer recreation. Even those who hate the snow probably enjoy spending time at a Michigan lake or river in the summer. But you can’t have one without the other.

Togetherness. Facebook groups like the Lansing Bike (& Ski!) Party and Meridian Nordic Ski Club promote social winter recreation. The Lansing Area Outdoor Enthusiasts Meetup group has also had at least one XC ski outing this year.

Without winter, there’s no hope. “Ho hum, just another *#$! day in paradise,” or so the saying goes in San Diego. There’s a grim kind of hopelessness when there’s nothing different to look forward to, nothing better to hope for. But spring never feels so nice as after a long winter. After two years in Lansing, I’ll never again take shirt-sleeve weather for granted.

Readers, what are your favorite parts of winter? How do you endure/tolerate/celebrate it?