Outdoor recreation in the Great Lakes Bay Region offers beautiful places to enjoy social distancing

Living in the Great Lakes Bay Region gives us an advantage when it comes to finding things to do while minimizing our exposure to COVID-19.

Official restrictions designed to slow the spread of the potentially-deadly virus continue to change. Movie theaters, casinos, and more are temporarily closing their doors. Bars and restaurants are serving exclusively take-out customers. Sporting events are canceled and schools are closed for weeks. It's all part of an effort to flatten the curve, which refers to community isolation measures that keep the daily number of disease cases at a manageable level for medical providers.

Experts say the best ways to protect yourself from the virus are to thoroughly wash your hands and to avoid close contact with other people, also known as social distancing. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control offers additional tips for protecting yourself and the community.

To read the latest mitigation strategies or if you have questions about COVID-19, visit the State of Michigan Department of Health and Human Services website.

All that leaves many of us looking for safe activities.

“People need to turn to outdoor recreation more now than ever,” Felan says.

“Now is the time for all of us to adhere to these recommendations and to enjoy the remarkable outdoor activities at our disposal in the Great Lakes Bay Region,” says Matthew D. Felan, president and CEO of the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance.

In 2018, the Great Lakes Bay Blog highlighted the best trails in the area. During the current crisis, the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance plans to highlight a different outdoor recreation area every day on its Facebook page.

Felan’s suggestions include:

  • The Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge at 6975 Mower Road in Saginaw covers about 10,000 acres of marsh, forest, and grasslands. The area is critical for migratory waterfowl.  If you visit, you can go fishing or walk along one of several trails that wind past historic landmarks, crops, observation towers, and more.
  • The Great Lakes Bay Regional Trail, which attracts walkers, bikers, and even people with snowshoes, links trails throughout Bay and Midland counties.
  • The Midland City Forest, 333 W. Ellsworth St. in Midland, offers recreation opportunities during times of snow and sun. The City Forest’s two trail systems attract bikers, runners, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts.
  • The Chippewa Nature Center at 400 S. Badour Road in Midland. CNC's beautiful outdoor assets include 19 miles of trails. The Visitor Center is closed as of March 15, but the trails remain open and free. Know before you go: the public restrooms are no longer open for use. We will update as this changes.
  • The Bay City State Park, 3582 State Park Drive in Bay City, encompasses 2,000 acres of sandy beach, wetland woods, meadows, and more. Most of the trails are un-paved, so bring your hiking shoes.

With the weather likely to get warmer before the restrictions end, Felan also suggests fishing from piers, riverbanks, or a small boat with only one other person. Another great resource is a local park.

Some of the many local parks in the region include:

Parks in Midland County

Parks in Bay County

Parks in Isabella County


Ari Harris, assistant director of University Communications at Central Michigan University, adds that Isabella County is home to many beautiful parks. A list can be found on the Mt. Pleasant Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“People need to turn to outdoor recreation more now than ever,” Felan says.

Chippewa Nature Center has 19 miles of trails. (PC: CNC)

Many museums and parks are offering online tours.

The Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy is offering a free online “Socially Distant Science & Adventure” video seminars on birds, migration, flowers, pollinators, nature photography, and trails. The first video was posted on Tuesday, March 17. Going forward, they will appear every few days on social media, says Director of Land Protection Trevor Edmonds.

The Saginaw Children’s Zoo has filled its Facebook page with photos and videos of animals. Ask a question in the comments and zoo personnel may answer. Don’t miss the photos of the new zoo resident, Okra Mae, the Hoffman’s Two-Toed Sloth

The Bay City Players is creating an online talent show. Make a video of yourself performing whatever your special talent is and upload it to your favorite social media platform using one of the recommended hashtags for a chance to be included in a virtual talent show. Complete instructions are on Facebook.

The Bay Area Community Foundation also is running an online contest in connection with its annual Give Local Bay effort. The #GiveLocalBay contest on Facebook calls for you to click like on a photo that you think best captures the spirit of Bay and Arenac counties. The photographer of the winning photo gets to select which nonprofit earns a $250 prize. Learn more on the Foundation’s Facebook page.

Herbert Steih Park in Bay County’s Monitor Township offers access to the Kawkawlin River waterfront.

Whatever you choose to do, remember that the best defense against COVID-19 is handwashing and keeping our distance from each other.

 “Our local, state, and national health authorities have made very clear that social distancing is the most important thing we can do right now to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Felan says.

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