Monday, October 2, 2017

Holly State Recreation Area

For all its faults, one thing you can say for Michigan is that when it comes to preserving bits of the natural landscape the state has always been forward-looking, from its earliest days buying up and preserving land all over the state. And one of those little chunks of preserved land is now Holly State Recreation Area which the state bought in 1946.

Back then, and even as recently as when I was a kid growing up in Michigan, Holly SRA was out in the boonies halfway between Pontiac and Flint. Since then population growth has been relentless and pretty much all of southeast Michigan has gradually morphed into one huge, contiguous town where you’re never more than a few minutes from a Walmart or a Myers, but Holly SRA is an oasis there in the middle of the bustle designed as a place where people can get away from all that and spend a little time doing outdoorsy type stuff.

Today there’s even an inflatable ‘Water Adventure Park’ off the swimming beach on Heron Lake! When I was a kid we had to make do with 55 gallon drums under a wood deck and ratty bits of foam strung on a string to mark the swimming area.
Day-tripping out here is no issue.

Traffic might be heavy, but if you live within daytripping distance you’re used to that anyway. And if you got a slow start in the morning you might have to elbow out your piece of the beach among the weekend crowd, but if you want to spend that same weekend in the 100+ site campground just north of McGinnis Lake (There are four separate lakes in the recreation area.) you better have a reservation!!

This year our annual family reunion campout was here and campsite reservations open up 6 months before the date of your intended stay. We all had our instructions from the reunion organizer, including which campsites to grab up so we would create a family enclave, and I, along with the other members of the family, had the computer warmed up and the satellite connection ready to go as zero-hour approached, but even so, within minutes of becoming available for reservation, one of the designated campsites was snatched out from under us and an alternative had to be found!

By the way, as a non-resident visiting any of Michigan’s state lands can get expensive. Your options are to pay the $7 daily entrance fee (In addition to the hefty camping fee) or buy a $32 annual windshield sticker. (Residents can tack $10 onto their vehicle registration and get unlimited access.)

The main reason for selecting Holly SRA is that at the other end of the park from the campground, there on the southern flank of Wildwood Lake, are a pair of reservable (One year in advance because they are so popular) 4-person cabins, each with running water, (Including hot) a kitchenette and full bathroom.

I guess should point out that much of the family has aged over the years since we first started visiting places like this and now many of us are either approaching or already working on our 60’s, which means the matriarch is into her - well, rather than get myself into trouble here I'll let you do the math. Point is, cabin camping with real beds and running water is a whole lot easier for old bones than tent camping and a walk to the pit toilets!

At one point this spot the cabins are sitting in used to be a small beach area open to all, but now when you check into your cabin you also get a key for the locked gate, so for the cost of the cabin you are also getting a private little spot on the lake, especially if you coax enough family out of their tents to fill both cabins, which we did!

Also included in the cabin rental are canoes, life-jackets and paddles (No need to break out the inflatable kayak!)

which were put to good use for a little father-son fishing,

as well as some husband-wife alone time, although, in this case one of the participants wasn’t at all sure of this tippy-canoe crap and quickly downed paddle in favor of just plain hanging on!

Though the public beach on Heron Lake is probably the main draw, there are a couple of decent trails in the SRA as well.

One encircles the four loops of the camping area on the north side of the SRA and is nearly 6 miles long, though it can be shortened via several ‘cutoff’ trails, and another loops around the twin lakes of Valley and Wildwood.

The latter trail is just over two miles long,

sticks close to the water

for much of its length

and crosses just behind the cabins  

so was easily accessible for us.

Ma! There's a monster in the woods!

One morning, while still back at the campground before the family festivities started up over at the cabins, I tried out the north trail, the one around the camping loops.

This one is more of a through-the-woods trail

though much of Michigan is swampy and you are never far from potholes (The kind created by chunks of ice left behind as the glaciers retreated, not the infamous Michigan Potholes created by tires on crappy pavement!) and marshes.

Interesting point:

Michigan is the only state that has two separate Initial Points (The intersection of the Base-line and Meridian where all other surveys within the state are referenced from.) The swampy terrain was so difficult for the surveyor working ranges 3 and 4 along the Base-line east of the Meridian that his work was found to be wildly inaccurate and had to be re-surveyed in 1824. Wampler, the man doing the re-survey, decided that the only way to sort out the mess and tie everything together was to establish a second Base-Line point on the Meridian a full 935.88 feet south of the original. (In survey work, even back in those days, that kind of error would equate to a pilot landing in a New Jersey scrapyard instead of at LaGuardia!)

But that wasn't the end of survey-gate for the state! The surveys done between 1836 and 1840 up through the upper half of the lower peninsula and into portions of the upper peninsula  were found to be so sloppy, or sometimes just plain faked, that it took 4 years of work to go back and correct the mess!

(My dad's initial career was as a ground-pounding surveyor and I've always remembered him telling us about this, though admittedly I did have to look up the details.) 

Because through-the-woods trails that don't come out at any particular point of interest are at the bottom of the trail hierarchy except for biologists and Boy Scouts perusing yet another merit badge, I pretty much had the trail to myself, though I did encounter one red-breasted trail-thumper along the otherwise silent (If you ignore the constant sound of traffic on the roads bordering all sides of the SRA.) hike.

Fortunately I heard him coming from a distance and had plenty of time to get out of the way.

Though, to be fair, this family of Whooping Cranes checking out our lakeside gathering later in the day was pretty noisy too.

OK, for obvious reasons I’m not going to be sharing the couple hundred family photos I took during our extended weekend (We stayed three nights so had two full days of activities, which mainly featured eating!!) but I think we all enjoyed ourselves and, for what it was intended, the location worked out pretty darn well.

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