Mother Nature Calling
By Nick Lico / Photography by Mike Ferdinande
With any luck, the worst of winter is behind us and it’s time to take in all that Mother Nature has to offer. In Macomb County, we don’t have to go far to see nature’s rebirth. Most residents live less than 20 minutes from a nature center. Each offers visitors an opportunity to learn more about the natural world and its relationship to our well-being. And, they’re not just for students on a fleld trip. There’s something for all ages to see and do, especially in the spring.
Sterling Heights Nature Center
42700 Utica Road, Sterling Heights
(586) 446-2710, myshpr.net
The Sterling Heights Nature Center, located just north of Dodge Park off Utica Road, features still life exhibits and a host of living reptiles and amphibians, including a 900-gallon aquarium with flsh you would flnd in our local lakes. Step outside the nature center to see a host of free-roaming animals. “Our trails are open and we hook up to the Clinton River in the northern area of the park. We have a combination of paved and unpaved trails that are open to walkers, bikers, even strollers. The views along the river are amazing, especially when you consider that the park is inside a bustling city,” said Brenda Suchenek, the center’s recreation specialist and naturalist. It doesn’t cost anything to visit the nature center or walk the trails. A number of low-cost programs and classes are also available.
Lake St. Clair Metropark Nature Center
31300 Metro Parkway, Harrison Township
The Nature Center at Lake St. Clair Metropark features displays on wetlands, including waterfowl and other animals common in and near marshland. “It’s amazing how much wildlife you see while hiking near the marshland, including rare and threatened species, such as the common gallinule. It’s a duck that looks like a small chicken with a red beak. There’s also the least bittern; it’s a small heron,” said Julie Champion, East District interpretive supervisor. No matter the season, there’s always something to see at the park and nature center. March is an ideal time to see the great horned owl nest and May is peak time to see a variety of birds. “This is one of the key spots in the state for bird migration, including small songbirds such as warblers,” Champion added.
Stony Creek Metropark Nature Center
4300 Main Park Road, Shelby Township
Due to its topography and larger open area, visitors to the Stony Creek Nature Center are likely to see animals they may not experience elsewhere. “We have bald eagles, ospreys, beavers, sandhill cranes, kingflshers and in late summer we get a large number of monarch butterflies,” Champion said. The park offers wagon rides in the summer to see wildflowers and eagles and night hikes are available.
Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center
4101 River Bends Drive, Shelby Township
The Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center is an ideal destination for learning about a variety of animals, including reptiles. “We offer a number of programs, including one geared toward K-7 school children, that is about snakes and reptiles. The goal is to familiarize them about snakes and to make them less hesitant,” said Joe Youngblood, Shelby Township Parks, Maintenance and Recreation director. He added that the nature center is hoping to offer special programs, including about birds of prey, later this year.
James B. and Ann V. Nicholson Nature Center
21777 Dunham Road, Clinton Township
(586) 286-9336, clinton-township.com/parks
Clinton Township is home to a hidden gem, the James B. and Ann V. Nicholson Nature Center. It’s the flrst property owned by Macomb County to have a conservation easement, meaning that it will be a protected property for future generations. “The Nicholson Nature Center is an excellent area to visit year-round. Situated along the north branch of the Clinton River, this natural area provides an up-north feel in the heart of Clinton Township,” said Robert Cannon, Clinton Township supervisor. The sprawling 33-acre nature center contains an array of wildlife, such as whitetail deer, foxes, raccoons, rabbits, blue herons and eagles.
Sprinkled throughout the county are a number of habitat restoration efforts, including along the Sterling Relief and Red Run drains in Sterling Heights, along Romeo Plank at the site of the former Partridge Creek golf course in Clinton Township, and behind the Macomb Township Recreation Center. These efforts have been spearheaded by Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller. “The efforts have cost Macomb County residents nothing. It’s all been covered by grants from the National Wildlife Federation, the EPA and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” Miller said. Thousands of native trees and plants have been planted at these habitat restoration sites, delivering a wealth of beneflts to the county and its residents. For example, the efforts in Sterling Heights have created a 2.5-mile butterfly flyaway area, helping a species that desperately needs our help. “We’ve taken places that were frankly not environmentally sound and transformed them into areas that are teeming with wildlife,” Miller said.