Winter wonderland: Six fun winter activities in Midland

Midwestern winters can sometimes end up being something that local communities endure rather than enjoy. Sub-freezing temperatures, dangerous road conditions and ever pervasive grey skies can leave a person wanting to just hunker down, put on some hot cocoa and stay inside.

In Midland however, the winter season is just a shifting of one community activity to the next, with a myriad of outdoor options all over the city and plenty of activities that will make going out this winter worthwhile.

1. Midland City Forest
Of course, no active day in Midland can be considered without first thinking of the Midland City Forest. The park itself is open seven days a week, year round. During the winter months, City Forest welcomes visitors specializing in many different interests, from sledders to cross country skiers, snowshoers and fat tire bicycle riders. Additionally, the city’s lighted ice skating rink is open each day from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. for drop-in skating.

The colder temperatures over the last few weeks are not keeping people from enjoying the forest, according to Bart Heil of the Midland Parks and Recreation Department. Heil said that he was amazed by the amount of people willing to brave the arctic temperatures to enjoy the activities featured by City Forest, practically flooding the sledding hill and filling the ice rink.

Heil was quick to point out that while the City Forest is always open, the special amenities are only available on the weekends or for Midland Public Schools’ snow days, weather permitting.

The amenities include a heated chalet with a concession area where park visitors can warm up and seek refreshment as well as rentals available for ice skates, cross country skis, and the attraction City Forest is best known for: toboggans for the area’s only toboggan run.

Visitors who want to utilize the toboggan run must rent toboggans from City Forest. Tobogganers are then treated to a 1/10 mile ride to the far end of the speedy track. With a simple and quick hike back up the incline and a climb of the tower, you’re off again down the run.

City Forest is also the location of a snow sculpture contest each year held in partnership with the Midland Public School system. This year’s contest was looking bright on the rescheduled date of Saturday, January 13, until the event was impacted by weather. Originally delayed due to the extreme cold this week is now too warm to host the event due to the unseasonable warm spell that has since blanketed the state of Michigan. City Forest plans on continuing the tradition of the snow sculpture contest next year.

Recently, the City Forest saw an update in the form of two new bike bridges on the mountain bike trail. As first reported by the Midland Daily News, the lumber for this operation was provided from repurposed decking pieces from the newly refurbished Tridge in Downtown Midland. Additionally, the previous streetlight fixtures were repainted into metal fittings, which were then repurposed into simple bridging materials. The new bike bridges will also be more study than the ones they were replacing.

"When we have the next flood, they won't be washed away, they will be anchored to concrete footings," says Karen Murphy, Midland City Public Services Director.

The bridge project won an award for innovation from the Michigan Recreation and Park Association, the umbrella organization for municipal services programs and nonprofits, which will be presented at an upcoming ceremony in February. Heil said that while the bridges typically do not see much use in the winter months, that they are fully operational and there to use for any hiker, snowshoer, cross country skier, or fat tire biker enterprising enough to venture that far down the trail.

City Forest sports events for runners too, like the popular and local TriToFinish Snow Moon Trail Run. Now in the second year, the Snow Moon Trail Run sold out quickly last year at 300 runners with over 100 on a waitlist. Part of the Mutt Race Series and with collaboration from the Bay City Morning Rotary Driathlon, the Snow Moon Trail Run is a popular national activity put on for runners to celebrate the full moon each February.

Last year’s race was so popular, TriToFinish increased the 2018 race to 400 participants, as there were several runners waitlisted last year. The race is one of the more popular events in terms of demand and the only winter race that TriToFinish currently holds after November. The course is completed during late afternoon and offers three distances at 5K, 15K and 25K.

However, City Forest is certainly not the only place to beat the freeze and remain active in Midland this winter!

2. Emerson Park
The Emerson Park Hockey Rink is open to drop in hockey every day of the week. Heil attested that while the balance of the players participating in the daily and nightly games were high school and young college age, that players of all ages were present and welcome: from youngsters just getting their skates under them to older “kids at heart” looking to get a few good hours of drop in hockey under their skates at night. Emerson Park operates at the same operating hours as Midland City Forest (daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.).

3. Stratford Woods
A unique and fun way to beat the frigid mid-January through February temperatures could be to simply stay inside. Stay inside an ice shanty, that is. Stratford Woods Park has been home to enterprising ice fishermen this winter. Whether sitting on a bucket next to a hand-drilled hole, or fishing in warm luxury in a custom shanty, anglers can enjoy their preferred summer sport - in the winter - in this park just outside town on the way to Auburn.

4. Pere Marquette Rail Trail
For those visitors who do not want to alter their normal three-season routine just because the pesky winter is here, the Pere Marquette Rail Trail remains the perhaps the strongest argument for physical activity and sightseeing in Midland. Heil made sure to point out that the Parks and Recreation Department of Midland keeps the Rail Trail swept - down to the pavement - every day of the year. It is a point of pride for the department and for the city. The Rail Trail provides a clear and safe walking, running and biking trail year round for visitors to utilize.

5. Greater Midland Curling Center
Not specific to winter, there is one sport that may give you a chill year round, which you will find at the Greater Midland Curling Center. Midlanders have been curling since the 1960s, but the Curling Center opened the doors at its current location in April 2008.

The Curling Center offers leagues for all ages and levels and the club's more than 220 members and fans that partake swear that it is completely addictive and very fun. The Center also offers rental options for parties and special group events.

"Curling is a sport that can be enjoyed by men and women of all ages. It is a great blend of skill, athleticism and strategy," says Steve Passmore, President of the Midland Curling Club. "Curling is easily learned, but takes years to master."

If you're more sure yet, the Curling Center is having a “Learn to Curl” open house on Saturday January 13, and the group puts on the event regularly for those new to the sport. The next Learn to Curl event will be on February 24. 

6. Midland Center for the Arts
And finally, for those who simply must be indoors during the coldest parts of the year, the Midland Center for the Arts is here. With tickets available all through January and February, and spanning such diverse shows as the Moscow Festival Ballet, Chicago and the upcoming Uncorked Happy Hour on February 1; the Midland Center for the Arts has visitors of all types, of all ages, and for all interests, covered.

For anyone out there that wants to get out and enjoy the winter months: rest assured Midland has you covered. Whether the preference is sledding and riding the toboggan run at City Forest or checking out the new mountain bike bridges, evening drop in hockey at Emerson Park, inland lake ice fishing at Stratford Woods park, a scenic walk over at the Pere Marquette Rail Trail, learning how to curl at the Greater Midland Curling Center, or attending Comedy and Cabaret night at the Midland Center for the arts; you’ll find what you’re looking for here in Midland.

For more information, activities and events, check out:
Midland City Calendar of Events
Midland City Forest
Midland Parks and Recreation
Midland Center for the Arts Event Calendar
Greater Midland Curling Center
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