Playgrounds Close, but Recreation Opportunities Await at Area Parks

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The boardwalk at Hawk Island Park in Lansing proved to be an ideal spot to enjoy Wednesday’s sunshine and springlike weather. (Photos for ELi by Gary Caldwell)

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order doesn’t mean you can’t spend time outside. Most of the local park systems remain open to help residents maintain some sanity while practicing proper social distancing.

In East Lansing, “The Northern Tier Trail and most parks (excluding the dog park) will remain open to community members for physical activity, which can help reduce stress and improve mental health,” said Tim McCaffrey, director of Parks, Recreation and Arts, in a statement.

“Community members are encouraged to use the trail and areas of the parks that remain open to the public in a safe manner by practicing social distancing and staying at least six feet away from others.”

East Lansing has now followed Ingham County in closing all playgrounds in its park system – a tough coda for energetic children who might enjoy them as they’re kept away from schools. On Tuesday, the signs had not yet been posted but the playground at Patriarche Park sat sad and empty, a forlorn stuffed unicorn and a little girl’s jacket abandoned on a park bench.

The East Lansing Parks, Recreation and Arts Department is also closing tennis and basketball courts, as well as the Northern Tail Dog Park.

But in Patriarche Park on Tuesday, people still walked the trails or tossed a Frisbee. Any activity that can be done safely with social distancing is still an option in most of the area’s public parks.

East Lansing is also ringed by larger park systems that are open to visitors seeking solitary recreational opportunities, such as hiking, walking, roller-blading, or fishing. Indoor facilities, including restrooms, have been closed to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

There are plenty of places along the Hawk Island boardwalk to fish, and practice social distancing .

Meridian Township has 15 parks to explore with nature trails, including Nancy Moore Park on Okemos Road. Birders can keep a lookout for the return of migratory species, which will fly north, free of travel restrictions troubling the area’s dominant mammalian species.

Ingham County has closed the Potter Park Zoo, but Hawk Island Park, Burchfield Park (Grovenburg Road in Holt), and the two sections of Lake Lansing Park are open to anglers and hikers. The boat launch on the north end of Lake Lansing is also open. Burchfield has a frisbee golf course in addition to several miles of trails and river fishing.

Sleepy Hollow State Park in Clinton County, the only state park in the tri-county area, remains open along with most of the rest of the Michigan state park system. The Department of Natural Resources has kept the parks open for exercise and mental health relief during the stay-at-home orders from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, while closing lodging and campgrounds.

The Woldumar Nature Center, on Old Lansing Road east of Creyts Road in Delta Township, remains open and largely untouched by restrictions. The education center asks for a $2 donation, per usual. The Fenner Nature Center, on Mt. Hope Avenue east of Aurelius Road, is also open and free to the public from dawn to dusk. Moores River Park is a good spot to cast a line near the dam at the Eckert Municipal Power Plant.

Area residents can also get a first look at the improved trails at East Lansing’s White Memorial Park, which proceed north from the bridge at the pond, behind the baseball diamond and up to Lake Lansing Road. The City approved about $600,000 for these improvements in December.

At White Park, gravel or sand has been laid over more rudimentary paths, with paving for wheeled vehicles and a boardwalk along the vernal pool in the northeast corner of the park. The vernal pool is a special place, providing habitat to amphibians to spawn tadpoles that might otherwise be eaten by fish or larger bullfrogs in a year-round pond. The low-lying area fills with water in spring but is dry by autumn.

Hawk Island Park also features a 1.5 mile paved path around the lake.

East Lansing also has park trails at Abbott Road Park and Hawk’s Nest Park in the city’s northern tier. The Northern Tier Trail and the Lansing River Trail remain open for bicyclists, roller-bladers, wheelchair users and walkers who prefer a paved path.

Have a favorite spot in the park system, or a favorite outdoor activity during the pandemic? Share it with us.

ELi has a special section dedicated to our reporting on COVID-19 for East Lansing. See it here and sign up for ELi’s mailer to stay informed Kids

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