Southeast Michigan: A Quest for Nature, Part 1

If there’s one thing Metro Detroit is unquestionably great at, its not building cars. Its building suburbs.

Yes, it’s true. The sheer amount of arbitrary city boundaries and reinvigorated small town Main Streets can be bewildering. It can feel, almost, without end. If we had the resources of LA or Chicago, we’d have paved over the earth by now, bringing civilization with us one Coney Island and Little Caesars at a time.

This is the Motor City. We love our sprawl.

In theory, anyway.

In practice, I find that most people stick within a 30-40 minute radius of their homes, while obscene amounts of regional money are poured into places they’ll never, ever go. There’s too much sprawl out there to contend with – enough McDonald’s, Best Buys, traffic cops, idiot drivers and convoluted on-ramps to drive anyone insane. So you stick close to home.

And when we do take a longer trip, we inexplicably end up in, like, Toledo, wandering the local zoo with a dazed look in our eyes.

Fuck if I understand it. I’m just reporting the facts, man.

The other problem with Metro Detroit sprawl is that for decades, developers and cities failed to set aside significant natural areas or “open spaces”. It was all just build, build, build, driven by a rabid mantra of “who cares?” Because, yes, Who cares about some tiny, piddly creek, or yet another stand of excruciatingly boring trees? We need another half-utilized strip mall, and giant front lawns that nobody will ever actually use.

The parks that do exist are mostly just slivers of land, begrudgingly set aside by developers so prospective homeowners could pretend they were actually going to let their kids play outside.


A park in Romulus, Michigan. This about as good as it gets, for the most part. A bunch of metal, plastic and “shaved turf” (as Frederick Olmsted would put it).

If you really want to experience nature, you have to drive at least a half-hour, if not longer. Yeah, sure, there’s an exception here and there, but by and large, you’re lucky if they put in a trail next whatever creek or river is next your neighborhood. And forgot about Lake St. Clair. The shoreline is almost entirely privately owned, and often snobby to an unduly degree.

You’re lucky if they let you look at the lake from a distance.

It’s easy to get lazy and out of touch with nature living in Metro Detroit. After all, how many times can you walk around your generic subdivision before enough is enough, and you’re ripping out your eyeballs and slamming Five O’Clock vodka every night to cope? It’s a small miracle Metro Detroit is only the 49th fattest metro (Toledo, by the way, is #3).

This time around, I’m determined not to let Metro Detroit get me jaded and fat. This tanned, svelte Colorado bod ain’t goin’ nowhere, folks.

That’s why I’m on a quest for nature. Even though I’m moving back to The Mitten in the wintertime, I’m going to stay as active, fit, and outdoorsy as ever, like nothing has changed.

First up on the itinerary? Bald Mountain.

What?! You exclaim. A mountain in lower Michigan? Could it be?

You’ll have to read the next post to find out (Googling is cheating).


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