Friends of St. Clair River lead hike in Columbus County Park
By Jim Bloch
Instead of packing into big box stores or fighting online traffic on Black Friday, more than 100 residents of the Blue Water Area enjoyed a 2.5 mile guided hike through Columbus County Park in Columbus Township — two times as many hikers as participated last year.
It was the third annual Opt Outside walk led by the Friends, the second in Columbus Park. The first was held at the Blue Water River Walk in Port Huron.
Kirsten Lyons, the stewardship director for the group, led the hike from the park’s handsome pavilion through the woods to a refurbished barn, the centerpiece of the farm that became Columbus park.
Lyons read from a Nov. 6, 1931 article about David McMorran — of the McMorran auditorium family — who assembled 365 acres for a bird sanctuary and sheep farm. McMorran stocked the property, studded with large chestnut trees, oaks and maples, with 55 mallard ducks, a flock of turkeys, hundreds of chickens, Oxford sheep and three goats. He grew crops that the sheep enjoyed — soybeans, alfalfa and sudangrass. No guns were allowed on the property. The farm, called Kleineth Farm, was among the most modern in the county, with each field and building connected to a water line and all buildings fully electrified.
The group walked through former pastureland and down the wooded bluff to the flood plains of the Belle River, which was brimming with water the color of hot chocolate, running fast and full of eddies.
With the trees bare of leaves and the summer underbrush sere, the wrinkles and contours of the land became obvious. Autumn husks of milkweeds and goldenrod stood in the meadows.
Mark Brochu, the director of St. Clair County Parks and Recreation, walked with the group. He expressed his gratitude to be able to work for the residents of the St. Clair County.
“It’s your millage money that makes this all possible,” said Brochu.
Residents support county parks and recreation with a voted half mill tax that raised $2,956,338 in 2019, a quarter of which flowed back to the townships and cities for their parks and recreation programs.
Lyons gathered the group around the ancient white oak in the middle of a former pasture, which park employees call “the wedding tree” because so many newlyweds have their photos taken there. It measured 168 inches in circumference.
“It’s been here since before McMorran bought the property, so it’s certainly more than 100 years old,” said Lyon.
“It’s survived a lot of cattle grazing,” said Brochu. “They grazed cattle all through here.”
The trail wended up from the flood plain and along the tawny stands of field corn, which form the park’s north-central boundary. Whorls of purple raspberry brushes edged the path.
Back at the pavilion, hikers cooked marshmallows over an open fire and made s’mores.
The outdoor recreation retailer REI started Opt Outside in 2015, closing its stores, giving employees a paid day off and asking them to head outside instead of shopping and help clean up a trail, beach or other natural area. The event has evolved into a 52-week action plan through which individuals may incorporate a different ecologically sound practices into their lives.
For example, Dec. 1-7 is “Go Bagless” week, in which you begin to use reusable bags to grocery and gift shop. A disposable plastic bag takes a millennium to break down in a landfill.
The holiday season from Thanksgiving to Christmas generates 25 million tons of extra waste year. Dec. 22-28 is “Forego Traditional Wrapping Paper.” If you still read a physical newspaper, reuse it as wrapping paper. Or “wrap” your presents in a reusable shopping bag or use recyclable wrapping paper.
“Thanks for opting outside with us today,” said Lyons.