Macomb Parks & Trails: 3 Macomb County park systems that'll make you wish you were outside right now

There's certainly no shortage of natural wonders in Macomb County. Sitting along the banks of Lake St. Clair, the county is graced with forested areas like the Anchor Bay Woods and waterways like the Clinton and Belle Rivers. It's also home to three Huron-Clinton Metroparks,  32 miles of paddling trails, and 155 miles of non-motorized trails including the celebrated Macomb Orchard Trail.

But enjoying the outdoors doesn't necessarily mean having to travel to remote corners of the county to have a good time. There's plenty of things to do in the county's local parks, which all together total up to 3,800 acres of land.

While every park system has its own charms, there are always a few that really turn people's heads. With that in mind, here are three Macomb County park systems that stand out from the crowd.

Ice skating at the Dodge Park ice rink in Sterling Heights.Sterling Heights

Sterling Heights may be one of the largest cities in Michigan, with a bustling population of more than 132,000 people. But over the years, its leadership has strived to make it a place where open space and greenery are always nearby.

Sterling Heights Parks and Recreation Director Kyle Langlois, who's done the math, has found that there are more than 1,000 acres of total land split between the city's 31 parks and green spaces.

"The park system in Sterling Heights is vast for a highly built out community, safe, and very clean," he says. "The foundation of our park system was for there to be a green space within a mile walking distance from anywhere in the city, with an emphasis on not having to cross major roads."

This public land takes many forms in Sterling Heights, including wooded land, riverway and a variety of different ecosystems and animal habitats. But Dodge Park is perhaps the most prominent of the city's parklands.

It's Sterling Heights central and most visited park outside of its athletic complex. And it's quite large, totalling an impressive 51.2 acres. The park offers visitors an ample variety of different amenities including playgrounds, walking trails, athletic courts and pavilions, as well as features like a splash pad in the summer months, an ice rink in the winter and an outdoor amphitheatre.

According to Langlois, Dodge Park was renovated in 2018 with the intention of making it one of the premier parks in Southeast Michigan

"The park is the hub of recreation activities and was designed to bring people from all over Sterling Heights and the region to a common location to experience the physical and mental benefits of parks and recreation."

There's no shortage of interesting things to do at the city's many parks. In addition to run-of-the-mill activities like walking, jogging, and biking, many of them also offer a variety of cold-weather options like sledding hills, and trails and open space for cross-country skiing. Dodge Park's ice rink is another great winter option, and is open to the public from Dec. 1 to the first complete weekend in March. Those interested in learning more about the natural world can also check out the Sterling Heights Nature Center at 42700 Utica Road.

Sterling Heights' long tradition of supporting its park system was reaffirmed in November 2016, when residents approved a $45 million Recreating Recreation millage. It allowed the city to renovate existing facilities like playgrounds, athletic courts, and trails, and replace equipment including benches, picnic tables, and trash cans. It also allowed for the establishment of new amenities including a community center, splash pad, farmers market pavilion/ice rink, paddle docks, dog park, skate park, and miniature soccer field, as well as a new nature trail running from Delia Park to Beaumont Hospital.

While Sterling Heights has already completed construction on most of these millage-related park projects, Langlois says there's at least one more exciting upgrade to look forward to.

"As one of the final projects related to Recreating Recreation, we will be starting construction on a three-season indoor bocce ball court, with completion expected for later this year," he says. "From there, our main focus shifts to maintaining our facilities to the level that our residents expect and deserve."

A bridge at Dodge Park in Sterling Heights.Clinton Township

It's hard to mention Clinton Township without thinking of the Clinton River, from which the community gets its name. Its main branch runs right through the township and splits off into several branches there, giving residents plenty of waterfront access.

That's a great asset for those who love kayaking or canoeing. And it's amenity the township has recognized and supported with infrastructure.

"We have a canoe/kayak launch at Budd Park and this is part of the Clinton River Trail," says Mary Bednar, the township's director of public services. "We have partnered with the Clinton River Watershed Council to post location markers along the Clinton River."

The township plans on expanding these small watercraft options by building another canoe and kayak launch at George George Memorial Park in 2022.

In addition to embracing its riverway, Clinton Township also supports a dozen parks within its limits, including Macomb County’s Nicholson Outdoor Nature Center for which the township handles daily maintenance. Many of these parks have ADA accessible playscapes, areas where people can play sports and games, rentable pavilions and picnic spots. And each one offers its own distinctive benefits.

In addition to its kayak/canoe launch, Budd Park is also home to sand volleyball courts. Civic Center Park offers paved walking trails, historical buildings, pickleball and basketball, a catch-and-release fishing pond, and a dog park. Normandy Park was recently renovated to include a more green-oriented parking lot, trail system, and playscape.

George George Park features walking and biking paths, wedding garden, large playscape, and fountains. Neil Reid Park is home to a challenger baseball diamond. The Tomlinson Arboretum consists of 24 acres dedicated to showcasing native Michigan plants and trees.Prince Drewry Park sports a painted basketball court. And Joy Park is currently being upgraded with a new pavilion and basketball courts.

What's more, the township has a nice variety of biking and walking trails to check out, from the paved looping walking paths at the Civic Center and George George Parks, to the naturalized trails at the Arboretum, Budd, Canal and Normandy Parks, as well as at the Nicholson Nature Center. Clinton Township is also connected to the Freedom Trail, which is located along Metro Parkway and links up with other communities and Huron-Clinton Metroparks.

This summer the township will be building a new non-motorized path connecting Budd Park, Civic Center Park, Canal Park and George George Park. It's also planning on acquiring more park property this year along the Clinton River and near the Clinton River Spillway for further park development.
"Our parks have a variety of features and something to offer for everyone," says Bednar. "They are free to the public and you should check them out."

A fountain at George George Memorial Park in Clinton Township.New Baltimore

New Baltimore is a pleasant coastal resort community located along Anchor Bay at the central eastern edge of Macomb County. The recreation highlight there is, without a doubt, Walter and Mary Burke Park, a waterfront and public beach area that blends right into the city's downtown.

"It's the gem of our park system," says New Baltimore Parks Director Tim Novak. "We do our best to keep it clean and bright and pretty. On a sunny warm Saturday in the summer, we could easily see 2,000-plus visitors in that park."

The beachfront park nearly overflows with amenities, including a swimming area, fishing and transient boat docks, non-motorized boat launch, boardwalk, picnic area, playscapes, bocce and volleyball courts, and two pavilions that can be rentedTim Novak out for events like weddings and family reunions. New bathrooms were installed at the site in 2019. And the city is currently working with Michigan's Department of Natural Resources and the local downtown development authority to acquire a grant for a breakwall that would provide increased protection to the park's transient boat docks from waves on windy days.

In addition to this waterfront attraction, New Baltimore also maintains several other significant recreation areas. Maynard "Red" Aurand Memorial Park, located off of 24 Mile Road, offers visitors access to a variety of sports areas including two baseball diamonds, outdoor basketball court, soccer field, as well as a playscape, skate park, and outdoor pavilion. It also features a sledding hill, which is quite popular in the wintertime, along with heated restrooms.

Festival Park is a 31-acre recreational area that's being converted into a multi-sport complex for the local community. It's currently home to two multi-sport fields and a four-field baseball/softball complex that serves as a home for the city's youth baseball and softball leagues.

At the southeastern portion of New Baltimore there's also a more rustic area known as Ruedisale Point Park. It's a 6.9-acre community park area that runs along Anchor Bay at the end of Ruedisale Street. A popular ice fishing spot. It currently features picnic areas, and grills. In the summertime visitors can also take advantage of portable restrooms. The city of New Baltimore is currently working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to secure a grant that will help them restore the park's natural shoreline and add features like wave attenuation sandbars with native growth that will tone down wave activity and help foster the local fish population.

The Anchor Bay community also offers several other rustic parks, a trail network called the Lillian Lucas Trail System where people can snowshoe or cross-country ski in the wintertime, and the County Line Pathway, a 1.2 mile asphalt biking and pedestrian path that runs from the downtown New Baltimore area to Anchor Bay High School.

Each year New Baltimore's parks also host a variety of events like the Bay-Rama Fishfly Festival, Anchor Bay Triathlon, Music by the Bay, and Art by the Bay. Novak says these festivals and the parks themselves also provide visitors with a great opportunity to check out the rest of the city as well.

"New Baltimore is a great place to be," he says. "If you happen to come downtown to visit Walter and Mary Burke Park or any of our other parks in town, you'll find some quaint little shops, wonderful restaurants and some of the nicest people you'll ever meet."

The Macomb Parks & Trails series seeks to capture the story of the outdoor recreation, greenspace, placemaking and emerging outdoor assets that are shaping Macomb County's future. It's made possible with funding from Macomb County.

William & Mary Burke Park in New Baltimore.
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Read more articles by David Sands.