July 29, 2014

Park, Picnic & Play: Family Friendly Places to Enjoy The Outdoors

Nothing embodies summer more than a casual picnic. Mention it to your kids and they instantly smile. There’s just something magical about eating food outside on a picnic table or on the green grass. Pack your own picnic or stop at a roadside market along the way to add to the adventure. Here’s five suggestions that will make any picnic a memorable experience.

Silver Beach – 101 Broad St, St. Joseph

Located at the mouth of the St. Joseph River, this park provides river and beach activities. It boosts three playground structures with soft surfaces; two are age specific. One is for children ages 2-5. The other is designed for children 5-12. Kid’s will imagine life on the high seas with the red and blue “boat” structure. Nautical talking-and-listening tubes will give the captain and the crew hours of fun. Enjoy your picnic and playtime in the park then take a 5-minute stroll on the boardwalk from the beach to the Silver Beach Carousel, Curious Kids’ Museum and the free interactive Whirlpool Compass Fountain for more hours of family fun. Fees: $6/vehicle for Berrien County residents, $8 for non-residents (carousel and museum have additional fees) Website: berriencounty.org

Hawk Island – 1601 E. Cavanaugh Rd., Lansing

Work up an appetite first by renting a rowboat or pedal boat for a small fee. Picnic spots abound at various locations around the beach. Paved accessible walkways for walking or bike riding (1.5 miles), fishing docks, horseshoes, playgrounds and the popular Splash Pad® beckons young and old alike. A concession stand is also available if you didn’t pack enough treats in your picnic basket.
Fees: $3 annual fee per vehicle for Ingham County residents or $5 for non-residents Website: pk.ingham.org

East Park – Little Traverse Wheelway, Petoskey

This $13 million renovation project has been touted the “crown jewel of the north” in downtown Petoskey. You’ll have plenty of green space to picnic, or choose from one of the many picnic tables along the park’s paved walkway. Take in the beautiful boats and yachts docked in the marina during your stroll. You may never get the kids away from the Charlevoix Fountain of Youth, a state-of-the-art interactive kids’ fountain. The water is heated and there are multiple water nozzles and choreographed LED lighting and music.

Don’t forget to check out the East Park Trout Habitat while you’re there. This fully functioning trout ecosystem replicates the conditions found in a northern Michigan trout system. Fees: free   Website: charlevoix.org

Duck Park & Island Park – Corner of U.S.-31 and Long Rapids Road, Alpena

Picnic in Duck Park along the 1,200 feet of Thunder Bay frontage and stroll across the walking bridge into Island Park, a 17-acre island in the middle of the Thunder Bay river. Pack your binoculars to zoom in on the various bird species, including the mallard duck, great blue heron, or mute swan. These parks boast a 500-acre wildlife sanctuary with varied ecosystems including sand dunes, meadows, woodlands and marshes with viewing platforms so you’re bound to see all kinds of wildlife, including the amusing antics of beavers. Fish from wooden platforms or take a self-guided 3/4-mile nature walk.  Fees: free  Website: alpena.mi.us

Horseshoe Falls – Munising

An abundance of photo ops await at this privately owned attraction. One million gallons of pristine water fall over the top of Horseshoe Falls, which is fed by the underwater springs of Lake Superior. Bring your picnic basket, but save room for ice cream at the gift shop. Walk the well-maintained gardens and follow the gentle stream. Feed the rainbow trout and ducks at the trout pond. Scavenger hunts will keep the kids entertained by looking for a variety of items, including the whimsical Laafs (pronounced laughs) figurines. Adults can enjoy the many points of interest, such as the sundial, totem pole, water wheel and Indian 10 Commandments. Fees: $6/adults, $5 and under for children depending on age, or family ticket, $19 Website: uppermichiganwaterfalls.com

- Lisa Marie Metzler