City of Midland offers outdoor recreation to enjoy this winter

Although the cold temperatures might drive some of us to cuddle up inside for the season, there are plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities to enjoy the wintry weather. The City of Midland Parks and Recreation has multiple parks, trails, sledding hills, ice skating rinks, cross-country skiing, and seasonal events for the community to enjoy during the cold months. 
Cross country skiing trails at City Forest.. Skis are available to rent.
The Midland City Forest (2840 East Monroe Road) is a large recreation area, offering sledding, skiing, ice skating, snow shoeing, and tobogganing. After a long day on the trails or hills, visitors can warm up in the Chalet for a cup of hot chocolate and a snack. The Chalet is open (weather permitting) Friday from 4 to 9 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. They are also typically open on Midland Public Schools PD Days and snow days. 

Marcie Post, assistant director of public services for the City of Midland, says The City Forest is a popular go-to winter destination for many local residents and even travelers from across the state.

“It’s a 500-acre city park, our largest city park, which we transform into the Great Lakes Bay Region winter recreation area,” she says. “We’re starting to activate now, we needed the ground to freeze. We’re getting ready to put the ice skating rink together, getting the toboggan runs going, and starting to groom the trails.”

Post says there requires a lot of manpower and behind-the-scenes prep work to get the park ready for visitors, but it relies on mother nature’s cooperation too. 

“It has to be about 17 to 19 degrees,” she says. “We will start making snow to give us a greater base than what we already have. The big piece is really making sure the ground gets frozen. That’s huge for us because we’re not refrigerated anyway. If the ground is not frozen, obviously the ice skating rink isn’t going to freeze either. We have to put down a liner and boards for the rink, so that takes some time.”

Sledding Hill at Midland's City Forest
Post says the most time-intensive task is getting the toboggan runs ready, which takes anywhere from 8-16 hours with eight or more staff working on the process. Staff pack the runs with snow, slush them down with some water, and shave them to ensure a smooth run. 

“We’re the only municipal toboggan run in the state. It’s very old, we know that it was built in the ‘40s, so it is an older structure. It’s all hand-packed and iced-in runs, and very weather-dependent,” Post says. “When it starts getting warmer and the sun’s out, they start to melt and they get unsafe. We’re not able to use them as much as we’d like, but when we are able to use them, we’re gonna throw everything we have at them to get them going because they’re just such a unique feature in our community.”

Midland's City Forest skating rink
Equipment rentals are available during chalet hours, and visitors are encouraged to bring their own skis, sleds, or skates to use. Skates and sleds are $5 for a two-hour rental, skis are $10 for a two-hour rental, and snowshoes and toboggans are $10 per hour. The most up-to-date weather conditions can be found on the Rainout Line link, which is updated daily and sometimes even hourly. 

City Forest also hosts an annual cardboard sled race event. The fourth annual all-ages race takes place on Saturday, Jan. 20. Participants are invited to creatively and carefully craft their own sled made of cardboard and duct tape. This year’s theme is ‘get off my lawn,’ encouraging entries to include their favorite lawn ornament in their entries. Think pink flamingos, geese, and garden gnomes. Entries cost $10 for their first sled and $4 for each additional sled entry. Races are split into different age groups (8 and under at 1 p.m., 9-17 years old at 2 p.m., and 18+ at 3 p.m.). 

Awards will be given to the fastest sleds, best dressed, and most spirited theme.
Barstow Woods, Chippewassee Park, and Stratford Woods also have cross-country skiing trails. A regulation-size hockey rink is also available for skaters at Emerson Park (1300 W. Main Street at Orchard Drive). 

“The cardboard sled race is probably my favorite event in the winter,” Post says, “I just love being at City Forest when everybody is there and excited to be out in the weather.”

Last year’s lack of snow canceled some annual winter events, and Post is looking forward to seeing groups enjoying outdoor family fun activities this year. 

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Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.

Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at