Ten ways to enjoy the fall in the Great Lakes Bay Region

As soon as the air feels crisp, the thoughts of Michiganders turn to pumpkins, cider, cozy clothes, and crunching leaves. While autumn in Michigan may look a little different due to COVID-19, there are still plenty of fall activities to keep you and your family busy without sacrificing safety.

Here are 10 ideas for enjoying all that fall offers in the Great Lakes Bay Region:

Birdwatchers flock to trails along the Saginaw River in every season.1. STEM Pipeline Passport

This is a great way for kids interested in any STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) area of study to explore the field. Using this “passport,” it’s up to you to explore online and in-person STEM events within your community and record your experience.

By recording your participation in 5 STEM-related events, you have completed your passport and you and your family will receive a prize on behalf of the STEM Impact Initiative and MI STEM Network.

Click here to learn more about this event and view a list of participating businesses and programs in the Great Lakes Bay Region.

2. Studio 23/The Arts Center classes and workshops

Studio 23, 901 N. Water St. in Downtown Bay City, is filling its studios, classrooms and galleries once again. With a combination of in class exhibitions and classes, as well as virtual events (Sip N’ Swirl, anyone?), there is something going on nearly every weekend.

Check out the Studio 23 Facebook page as well as online event calendar for more information. Coming up in November there is a Member Make and Take which is always a crowd pleaser.

Users of the Railtrail system pass by working farms.3. State Theatre concerts and shows

Having been amongst the industries hit hardest by the pandemic, live entertainment is coming back! Here are some upcoming shows at the State Theatre, 913 Washington Ave. in Bay City:

  • Oct. 15 and 16 at 7 p.m. The State Theatre and Tri Star Trust Bank present “Late Nite Catechism, Back to School.” Tickets are $27.
  • Oct. 23 at 7pm, Brian’s House Community Group Dueling Pianos Night with COOL 2 DUEL. Ticket are $20.

Click here to view the complete events calendar online.

4. Johnson’s Giant Pumpkin Farm

Always a staple on fall activity round-up lists, Johnson’s Giant Pumpkin Farm at 4715 N. Portsmouth Road in Saginaw, is ready for the season. This year, the corn maze says “COVID GO AWAY,” and the family-friendly pumpkin farm outlines all its COVID-19 precautions on its website.

All weekend organized activities have been canceled, but there is still free parking and admission for the rest of the fun – animals, maze, craft store, piping hot donuts, gourds galore, and more. Things will be different this fall, but this fall staple is still an open. More information can be found on the farm’s Facebook page and website.

Fields, water, and wooded areas all line the Railtrail system.5. Chippewa Nature Center

You’re invited to explore 19 miles of trails that take you through the 1,500-acre Chippewa Nature Center, 400 S. Badour Road in Midland. The nature center is open dawn to dusk and offers free parking and admission. Pack your binoculars. The nature center is home to birds and other wildlife.

6. Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens

If you haven’t walked the nation’s largest canopy walk inside the Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens, 1809 Eastman Ave. in Midland, this could be the perfect time. The canopy walk is just over ¼-mile long and is ADA accessible. It’s not your only option, though. The forest encompasses 54 acres of apple orchards, meadows, ponds, woodlands, and streams. More than a mile of hard-surface pathways let you explore the space.

Two Generations Planting Trees at Discovery Preserve.7. Outdoor Exploring

Don’t let canceled fall events stop your family from enjoying the season. The Great Lakes Bay Region is home to many nature preserves, parks, and walking trails. While some of the parks may have canceled traditional events, most still are open for exploring. A nature walk in a new (or familiar) place could be a great break from remote learning, or even a welcome addition to home schooling.

  • In every season, the Bay City State Park offers beautiful opportunities for strolls, viewing nature, and relaxation. It’s also easy place to remain socially distanced from others on the trail. Take a picnic, a book, a blanket and have yourself a cozy afternoon or evening in this park at 3582 State Park Drive in Bangor Township. The nearby Tobico Marsh Nature Area has trails galore, and many opportunities to see amazing wildlife. Climb up the tree top lookout to see all the changing leaves and watch the ice stretch across the water.
  • In Bay City, the Golson Nature Area, located near the former Johnson Street and the Saginaw River; Discovery Preserve, 1701 S. Euclid Ave.; and the Middlegrounds Island; each are preserves maintained by the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy. These hidden gems are stunning places to have a quiet moment, go for a short hike, enjoy bird watching, or take the time to learn about some native species in our community. At each spot you can find plaques and displays about what sort of species you can expect to see, and how they live in their habitat and interact with their environment.
  • The Bay County Riverwalk and Railtrail winds past the Saginaw River, parks, trees, woodlands, farm fields, and more. It’s popular for walking, running, biking, and in-line skating throughout the year, but it’s particularly photogenic when the leaves change color.

8. Create your own color tour

You don’t need to drive to northern Michigan to enjoy vivid autumn hues. Although the Mount Pleasant Visitor’s Bureau Content Communications Coordinator Nick Raymond says the town doesn’t have an official color tour, the saturation of the season can be found many places close to home.

“A lot of people go to [Central Michigan University’s] campus,” Raymond says. “And there’s a place a lot of locals call the tunnel of trees. It’s a really neat picture.”

Raymond recommends a blog post on the Mount Pleasant Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau website, “The BEST places for fall colors in central Michigan.” The piece pinpoints the tunnel of trees near Mission Creek Woodland Park and proposes kayaking the Chippewa River as a method for viewing fall’s features among its recommendations.

For months, businesses have followed guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Now, some experts say its time to push for economic recovery.9. Conquer the highest peak in Isabella County

A .4-mile and light 1,270-foot hike is all it takes to climb Bundy Hill in Remus, but the autumn colors will leave you wanting to complete the 1.68 miles of trails the preserve contains.

Chippewa Watershed Conservancy Executive Director Mike LeValley says an early morning outing is the
way to go if hikers want to avoid crowds.

“My personal favorite is to do the trail as a figure-eight; climbing the McNeel trail to its junction with the Ridge Trail, following the Ridge Trail to the Summit Trail and following it to the top, then descending on the McNeel Trail back to the Ridge Trail, following it back to the Summit Trail and then returning to the parking lot,” LeValley says. “This way I get to experience the view on the Ridge Trail twice.”

If a climb isn’t within your interest or ability but you’d still like to experience nature and the autumn air, LeValley suggests Hall’s Lake Natural Area. While the area lacks the view from Bundy Hill, LeValley says there are more chances to view wildlife like porcupine, fox, beaver, and even the occasional bobcat.

10. Cook up new creations with fresh produce

Homemade apple crisp and pumpkin pie are hallmark comfort foods during the autumn season, but what to do when you crave a twist? Throw the freshest produce you can find into the mix by buying local.

Laura Coffee, marketing and owner services director for GreenTree Cooperative Grocery in Mount Pleasant, says not only is local produce fresh, it’s also sustainable because of the shortened farm-to-table distance.

“We are lucky that our local produce doesn’t have far to go and it goes from farmers directly to people and you’re building a supply chain that’s consistent,” Coffee says.

If you really want to try something new, Coffee has an arsenal of advice:

“[A recipe] that’s kind of fun is people will take the pie pumpkins, cut the top off, put stew ingredients in it, bake it until the pumpkin is cooked through, and scoop it all out with the pumpkin,” She says. “Another simple one is to cut squash in half – any winter squash will work – and put it in the oven oven with butter and sugar; or, you can freeze it and put it in smoothies to make pumpkin pie smoothies.”

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