There are few places left in our area where we can find natural gems that are virtually unknown yet created for the public’s use and enjoyment. Michigan State University owned and operated Hidden Lake Gardens is just one of those spots in Southeast Michigan within a short and scenic forty-five-minute drive from Ann Arbor. The pristine park with its well-maintained gardens, lake, conservatory, 10 miles of hiking trails, and six miles of paved trail for biking, driving, and motorcycling make up 755 acres of pure heaven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts of all ages. One can enjoy the property all year round as the seasons unfold naturally to our cooler climate. The Kellogg Foundation contributed funds for a wheelchair-accessible trail and a few raised beds, which make the gardens wonderful for all to enjoy. I am one of those people who occasionally need a wheelchair or walker and at times can only drive in a car as a passenger to enjoy the picturesque beauty and grace at its finest. The accessibility of Hidden Lake is a real gift. There is also an auditorium, restrooms, classrooms, and a small library and gift shop within the buildings on the grounds. A picnic area with shelter is available without need for reservation, and there are plenty of spots on the property to sit and reflect on the natural surroundings.
I spent some time in this area as a young child, with a few memories of Hidden Lake Gardens itself and also of Irish Hills and other local kids’ parks. When you visit, you will see why this is such a magical place and why we, as a community, need to support its existence. Funding for such public parks is dwindling, and so are natural areas in general, for development and privatization. It is my hope that people will spend more time investigating these natural areas available to us in our area and state so that our future generations will want to save and restore these consecrated grounds for the seven generations ahead.
Now I will take you through the park with me as your eyes. First you turn off the scenic Highway 50 into a gated entrance, where a friendly staff member stands inside a box ready to take the three-dollar entrance fee (children under two are free) in exchange for pamphlets and maps to help navigate the area. The asphalt one-lane road winds around a natural park setting with trees and shrubs marked with signs describing breed and species names of most plants. The path guides you along to either remain on the one-way road or visit the buildings, conservatory, and parking area. Kids can enjoy the library and gift shop as well. It is also a good time to apply sunscreen and fill water bottles. This might also inspire the powers that be to invest more in our public parks for future generations.
After the indoor journey, visit the Bonsai garden, which offers a time of reflection to pause in the abundant beauty and grace of nature. My husband loves the succulents, tropical and arid plants from his homeland of Arizona, and breathes in the sunlight as if it were life itself, especially in the winter. I prefer the pristine conifers, the trees of Michigan standing proud out-of-doors, and the lovely small lake, a smaller pond with rock garden and walls that were hand crafted by the original property owner-donor and Adrian businessman Mr. Harry Fee. He bought his dream property at age 50 upon his retirement in 1926. He eventually donated it to Michigan State University. Later the Herrick family of Tecumseh donated funds for buildings, repairs, picnic area, and conservatory. Other donors and funds have allowed for acquiring more plants and property along the way.
Climb back in your car and make your way down the road. Slow and stop, or even turn off your ignition, when you hear bird songs that you may have never heard before. Meander up and down hills, around curves, and along straight runs and you will see the pond, lake, rock walls, and the picnic area. Five hundred specimens of conifers can be visited next to stone benches perfect for reflection, meditation, and photo ops. There are hostas lining the hillside by Hidden Lake in 800 stunning varieties. Small children might be found playing by the shore skipping stones and laughing while rolling in the grass. Butterflies, hummingbirds, and smaller birds find their way through the trees and land, occasionally resting in the shade.
Sculptures and artwork also are hidden along the trail, so keep an eye out for them in this sacred space. Snakes and other smaller creatures also live here and appreciate guests being respectful of their home. You will occasionally run across a small parking turnout to allow time to hike around the woods or take photographs. My friend and I once went with a bird song app so we could figure out what we were hearing. We never found this one bird we were looking for, but we are determined to find it this spring on our annual spring ride.
This is a good time to remind everyone of poison ivy and oak. Make sure you know what it looks like. I keep a medical napsack with natural poison ivy spray made of rubbing alcohol and jewelweed. Look online for other remedies. Always be prepared when in nature, especially if you plan to hike.
As the end of the trip approaches, the road goes through an open valley with older, larger trees. It is the perfect place for a simple picnic or nap. During the fall months this open field shimmers gold with grasses and wildflowers preparing for winter. Birds are saving up energy to fly south, and the occasional migrating butterfly brushes up against the softness of a child’s cheek. Sometimes deer will sneak a run across the field for safer grounds. It is this moment when the reality hits that the time has come to once again get back on the highway to head home. Or, pay another three dollars and do it all over again. Maybe this time on a bike or by foot. The gate closes promptly at 4 p.m., 7 p.m. in summer. Bring your camera. There are so many beautiful moments and visions to capture within the many acres here.
Throughout the year, Hidden Lake Gardens offers guest speakers, classes, plant sales, and other special events. I have heard they have a stunning holiday light show in December. Easter egg hunts are a big deal with the local children, and Hidden Lake also sponsors some runs and bike events. Always check the website and call ahead to see what is happening and when. Volunteers help keep the place running, so consider this to be a great opportunity to donate either time or money. In this way we save a precious parcel of land, innumerable plant species, animal habitats, and educational information we must pass along. Maybe meet along the path.