Detroit families venture to the Upper Peninsula gaining valuable connections

Hiking Hiawatha National Forest

Participants enjoy a hike through the woods! Photo courtesy of Tia Nichols.. See more photos in the Flickr Album.

This summer, thanks to some special Urban Connections funding and support from the Detroit Outdoors Collaborative, several Detroit families made an impactful journey to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Clear Lake Education Center in the Hiawatha National Forest, served as home base.

Every day started with wake-up and coffee time and ended with a campfire and, on special nights, a display of shooting stars! Participants spent one day hiking trails at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, then enjoyed lunch and played on the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan. They explored Munising Falls and got a wonderful view of Grand Island via a boat courtesy of Riptide Rides. Another day, they were kayaking and fishing on the crystal-Clear Lake. All the while, observing the surrounding trees and wildlife, including “every type of frog and toad possible.”

Antonio Cosme, Detroit Leadership and Environmental Education Program/National Wildlife Federation, & Black to the Land Coalition, coordinated efforts with the indigenous community to provide instruction and leadership. This included a workshop on Birch Bark and Spruce Root identification, harvesting and basket making, as well as campfire conversations about indigenous history/presence in Michigan (Ojibwe, Ottawa and Potawatomi), land rights, land usage and sovereignty.

Connecting with the natural world has many long-standing benefits. “For youth in particular, experiences in the outdoors can foster an increased appreciation for public lands, confidence, decision-making and leadership skills,” said Detroit Urban Connections Coordinator Lisa Perez. “The skills that are obtained can support a life-long passion for recreation. These experiences also lead to participants protecting and caring for greenspaces near and far.”

On top of connecting to the natural world, participants connected with each other, which made the experience even more profound, particularly after a year of COVID-related lockdowns. As one participant, Maya Jackson, observed,” I saw so many people, including myself, try so many things we probably would have never done before. It was a truly empowering thing to experience and witness. I saw everyone get so much out of this experience because of all the new connections made with nature and one another.”

Many people and organizations helped to make this trip a success, including Black to the Land Coalition, Keep Growing Detroit, Detroit Leadership and Environmental Education Program, the National Wildlife Federation, Wayne State University’s Black Student Union Executive Board, Detroit Outdoors Collaborative organizations, including the Sierra Club, International Wildlife Refuge Alliance, Clear Lake Camp manager Mimi Klotz, and Hiawatha National Forest Program Managers. Transportation in the “red bus” was provided by the not-for-profit wilderness program Bus for Outdoor Access & Teaching.

The Forest Service’s Urban Connections program partners with community leaders and organizations in urban areas to present opportunities to underrepresented and diverse audiences to visit National Forests and wilderness areas.

Hiking Hiawatha National Forest