An Outdoor Recreation Treasure in Ottawa County

March 7, 2020

An Outdoor Recreation Treasure in Ottawa County

Watson Country Outdoor Report.

By Joan Young, MCP/OCP outdoors writer.

The Watson Country Outdoor Report is a presentation of the Watson Auto Group, selling Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Fiat in Ludington, Manistee, Benzie and Rockford. “Every season there’s a reason to visit Watson Country. For more information, visit watsoncountry.com.

It’s not too early to start thinking about warm-weather opportunities.

One of Ottawa County’s long-term goals is to protect a connected greenway along the Grand, Pigeon, and Macatawa rivers, and the Lake Michigan shoreline. By creating a network of parks and open lands, the county seeks to provide habitat for wildlife and to enhance recreational opportunities. 

Currently connected properties include the Kitchel-Lindquist-Hartger Dune Preserve, City of Grand Haven property, Ottawa Sands, Coast Guard Park, North Ottawa Dunes, and P.J. Hoffmaster State Park at the north end, which extends into Muskegon County.

Recreational trails interconnect on four of these parcels of land. There are abundant opportunities for swimming, hiking, bicycling, skiing, and even backpacking.

The Ferrysburg North Beach Park is the only swimming area which can be reached by car or bicycle.  Several swimming areas within P.J. Hoffmaster State Park can be accessed on foot. 

The Linear Park and a paved connector route along North Shore Road in Ferrysburg provides bicyclists safe access to the beach, and connect with other multi-use paths including the Lakeshore Trail which extends south to Holland. The concept of connecting multi-use paths has gained strength in recent years, and it’s easier than ever to find an off-road option on which to safely take the kids for a couple of hours, or to ride for hundreds of miles.

Ski trail junctions are clearly marked and many possible loops can be followed. Of course, all these trails also provide excellent hiking. Short or long loops can easily be devised.

There are just over two miles of trail in the southernmost property, the Kitchel-Lindquist-Hargter Dunes Preserve. At the present time, these trails are isolated from the rest of the trail system by a parcel of land owned by the city of Grand Haven. Ferrysburg City Manager Craig Bessinger states that the Ottawa Sands Planning Commission will discuss through-trails, and perhaps camping options. 

It is possible, even now, with a little advance planning, to take a two-day backpacking trip through these properties. Camping is only allowed at Hoffmaster State Park, but with proof of campsite registration, you can gain permission from the City of Ferrysburg to leave a car overnight at Coast Guard Park. 

An overnight loop could be as short as a total of about 14 miles, or can be designed to stretch to almost 20 miles, with very little duplication of trails. I recently made such a hike. To include close to 20 miles, I looped to the south through Ottawa Sands, a delightful dune ecosystem which includes a small lake and Grand River shoreline. This year, an eagle nest can be observed near the trail. In this sunny space, butterflies and dragonflies abound. Sandhill cranes are sometimes present. 

Continuing north into North Ottawa Dunes, the trails are forested and shady, except on the easternmost edge, where some trails have sunny openings. My hiking experience was pleasant, with enough hills to keep me from becoming bored, but not such a challenge that it became discouraging. Junctions are well-marked, and most trail segments are under a half-mile in length, so I always felt I was making progress. 

North of the Hoffmaster Visitor’s Center, the only trail which extends to the campground is a beach walk. Even in this year of high water, this was possible, but not without getting wet feet. On days when the waves are high, it would be safer to walk the park road to the campground at the north end of the park, along the banks of Black Creek.

Although this is a large and busy park with 297 campsites, the sites are wooded, and good sized. Although I had only a tent, I did not feel too cramped and overwhelmed by RVs. 

On the second day of my hike, I returned to Coast Guard Park via mostly different trails than the outbound walk. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at the backcountry quality of this hiking experience so close to a populated area.

The Visitor’s Center has excellent displays about the ecology and history of the park. 

Potable water and toilets at Coast Guard Park, and at the Visitor’s Center and campground at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park.

Joan H. Young has enjoyed the out-of-doors her entire life. Girl Scouting provided yearly training in camp skills, and the opportunity to engage in a 10-day canoe trip. She rode a bicycle from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean in 1986, and completed the North Country National Scenic Trail in 2010, becoming the first woman to hike the entire trail. The books North Country Cache and North Country Quest recount stories of her adventure.

She writes an award-winning monthly column for the Ludington Daily News called “Get Off the Couch.”

She has recently begun writing more fiction, including short stories, mysteries and mysteries for children.

This story is copyrighted © 2020, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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