Saturday, January 30, 2010

52 Michigan Weekends (Winter)

52 Michigan Weekends: Great Getaways and Adventures for Every Season
by Bob Puhala
2000 (3rd edition)

This guidebook is organized by season, with suggestions for a variety weekend outings throughout the state of Michigan. I've selected a few winter weekend recommendations, most relatively close to Kalamazoo.

West Michigan Winter Weekends

1. Loving the Luge
North Muskegon
"Watching television coverage of the Olympic Winter Games can put lots of crazy notions inside a person's head. Goof stuff, like riding the luge. So here I am, challenging the 600-meter luge run at Muskegon State Park's Winter Sports Center in North Muskegon."
Winter weekend, weather permitting. Fee (covers use of sled, helmet, insurance.)
Muskegon Winter Sports Complex

2. Snowmobiling Snofari

"The winter festival often draws more than 500 machines that roar in a ferocious ribbon through winding woodland trails near the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. The fest tracks through about 90 miles of trails groomed and tracked by the Department of Natural Resources."
[It looks like the Snofari festival is no more, but the trails remain and Whitehall is still popular for snowmobiling.]

3. Christmas Holidays
Ottawa County
"Communities all across the county get in on the fun with the towns of Grand Haven, Holland, and Zeeland hosting the lion's share of activities."
Grand Haven: parade and tree lighting, craft shows, class-homes tour, nativity scene
Holland: chorale programs, Christmas pageant, Dutch crafts, "Pioneer Christmas" at DeGraf Nature Center.
Zeeland: Christmas Card Lane, caroling, parade.

4. Downhill Thrills

[not strictly West Michigan]
"When it comes to skiing in the Midwest, you can find best bang for your bucks at Michigan ski resorts."
Most Upscale Atmosphere: The Homestead, Glen Arbor
Best Family Resort: Crystal Mountain Resort, Thompsonville
Best Buy: Boyne Mountain, Boyne Falls
Best Local Lore: Indianhead Mountain, Wakefield
Best Wilderness Skiing: Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park, Ontonagon
Best Mountains: Searchmont Resort, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

5. Nordic Pleasures
[including some outside W. Michigan]
"Of course there's nothing wrong with using your old long boards. That's what I hope to do most of this winter while plying Nordic trails at a half-dozen of Michigan's top cross-country ski resorts."
Short-ski paradise: Crystal Mountain Resort, Thompsonville
Schussing the Dunes: Sugar Loaf Resort, Cedar
Family Adventures: Wilderness Valley X-C Ski Center, Gaylord
Luxury Schussing: Grand Traverse Resort, Acme
Top 10 Haven: Shanty Creek Schuss Mountain Resort, Bellaire
King of the Canucks: Stokely Creek Ski Touring Center, Goulais River, Ontario

It looks like this book is out of print, but your library may have it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lawson Ice Arena

Western Michigan University's ice rink is open for public skating, weekend afternoons and at lunchtime most weekdays. Admission costs $3 ($1 on weekdays) and skate rentals are $1. Because it's indoors, it's open regardless of weather. The arena also offers broomball competitions and open hockey. It's home to WMU's hockey team. Lawson Arena website

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ski Kalamazoo

While Kalamazoo always has snowy winters, the weather isn't consistent enough to make long-term plans for cross-country skiing. When I lived in Wisconsin, it was always so cold that if snow fell it would be on the ground for months. Being east of Lake Michigan, Kalamazoo gets more snow but also warmer temperatures, so we cycle between deep snow and melt. It's boom & bust for skiing. This year, early January had deep powdery snow & excellent ski conditions. A couple of weeks ago, it warmed enough to make the snow too dense and icy. Last night it rained and bare ground re-appeared for the first time this season. In Kalamazoo, skiers need to be opportunistic.

My favorite places for cross-country skiing in Kalamazoo are:

Al Sabo Preserve

This large natural area was preserved to protect the quality of Kalamazoo's drinking water. There are several miles of well-marked cross-country trails through fields and woods, with enough hills to make it interesting. Texas Township Parks and Recreation department has online information including black & white and color maps.
Location: Take Milham Road west to Texas Drive. The parking lot is on the right between 8th and 12th; there's no sign but it's immediately next to the entrance to the Rota-Kiwan scout camp.

Asylum Lake Preserve

Western Michigan University owns a few hundred acres of woods, lakes, and restored prairie, just north of its engineering campus. Trails loop through the property, allowing for outings of various lengths. Asylum Lake Preserve website
Location: On Drake Road, just south of Stadium Drive. Parking available off Drake Rd., Parkview Avenue, and on-street in the Winchell neighborhood.

Schrier Park
Located in south Portage, this large park connects to Bishops Bog Preserve, South Westnedge Park, and West Lake Nature Preserve, so relatively long outings are possible. Trails loop through woods within the park. The first sections of the trails are paved, so there needs to be fairly deep snow for good skiing. The City of Portage hosts an annual Winter Sports Fest in the park in January. Schrier Park webpage
Location: 850 West Osterhout Road; Portage, MI.
Take Westnedge Avenue south to Osterhout; turn right on Osterhout; the well-marked entrance is on the right.

None of these locations grooms their trails and non-skiers use the same paths so tracks can be hit or miss. Conditions are best after a fresh snow.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Winter Trails Michigan

Winter Trails Michigan: The best cross-country ski and snowshoe trails by William Semion. 2001

Most of the trails in this guidebook are in Northern Michigan (which is logical given how much more winter they get) but it does include West Michigan.

West Michigan Ski Trails

1. Kalamazoo Nature Center Trails
"Summer hiking trails serve double duty in winter for cross-country skiiers. Due to variable snow conditions, it's wise to call ahead before planning your trip." Ungroomed, admission fee.
Location: 700 North Westnedge Avenue, about 12 minutes north of downtown Kalamazoo.

2. Yankee Springs State Recreation Area Trails

"The hills of southwestern Lower Michigan harbor some surprisngly good cross-country skiing, and this recreation area-- the state's euphemism for spots that offer more recreation opportunities than do state parks-- is one of the best places to find them." Groomed and single track set, warming lodge.
Location: 2104 Gun Lake Road, Middleville. US 131 to exit 61. A-42 east about 8 miles to park. Trailhead near Long Lake outdoor Center. [Yankee Springs website]

3. Pigeon Creek Park Trails

"Just outside of one of West Michigan coastline's most charming towns is one of the finest areas open for public use in southwestern Lower Michigan." Groomed, lighted, family friendly, rentals available, trail use free.
Location: 12524 Stanton Street West Olive, MI 49460.
Entrance on Stanton Rd, 3 miles east of US 31. [Pigeon Creek Park website]

4. Muskegon State Park Trails

"The community that once was known as the Queen City for its lumber which helped build America's West in the 19th century, is now known, among other things, as the location of one of the nation's only luge runs, within this 1,350 acre park on the northern side of Muskegon Lake. The parks dunes hold numerous hiking trails, some of which double as a cross-country ski range. As a result of the big dunes that have been piled up behind the beaches, some of the ski trails are fairly rugged."
Groomed, lighted, trail fee, sports lodge.
Location: From US 31 take North Muskegon exit and take White Road to Giles Rd. West on Giles to Scenic Drive. Turn south to park. [Muskegon State Park website]

5. Mackenzie Cross-Country Ski Trail, Manistee National Forest

"Set in the beautiful rolling hardwood hills of West Michigan, Mackenzie Trail is nearest to both downhill runs and one of northern Michigan's major resort towns." Groomed.
Location: 12 miles west of Cadillac. From Cadillac, take MI 55 to Caberae Rd. North 2 miles on Caberfae. Entrance on 38 Road or at base of Caberfae Peaks instruction hill.

6. Cool's Cross-Country Farm Trails [apparently closed in 2002]
"Cool's Cross-Country Farm has been a family enterprise for more than 20 years and is one of the few true destination cross-country-only resorts in Michigan"
Location: outside Reed City

7. Big M Cross Country Ski Area Trails, Manistee National Forest
"A booming local downhill ski area until the early 1970s, when someone overbuilt it and it went bust, the Big M has hosted legions of dedicated cross-country skiers since 1984, when the Manistee Cross-Country Ski Council [Big M website] cut most of the trails that now exist. The result is a great collection of paths that cut through the hardwood highlands east of Lake Michigan.
Groomed, warming shelter, donation requested.
Location: Off MI 55, 14 miles east of Manistee. M55 to Udel Hills Road,then 3.5 miles south.

8. Crystal Mountain Resort Trails

"Crystal prides itself on making young families feel at home, whether it's in a slopeside lodge room, the village homes in the woods, or one of the hot condos perched amid the trees along the western edge of the property."
Groomed, trail fee, downhill ski resort with lodging,pool.
Location: Thompsonville, on MI 115 between Cadillac and Traverse City. [Crystal Mountain website]

9. Sand Lakes Quiet Area Trails
"This is one of the most popular ski areas in the region, yet it also feels like one of the most remote, depending on where you are on the system." Ungroomed.
Location 15 miles east of Traverse City. From MI 72 head southward at the signs on Broomhead Rd, about 6 miles to the parking lot. [Pere Marquette State Forest]

This book was unavailable from Amazon or Barnes & Noble when I looked, but you may be able to find it at your local library.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I'd never seen Lake Michigan create snowballs like these. Hundreds of them, as big as pumpkins, lined the beach at Pentwater, MI. My guess: the ice chunks were tumbled in the surf, knocking off every edge and corner until they were rounded like river rocks. I wanted to stack three into a pre-fab snowman but they were frozen solidly to the sand.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Squirrel-proof feeder?

Deer can eat a lot of birdseed quickly, but they're interesting to watch. They only visit my feeders at night.