Editor’s Note: Looking for somewhere to go to walk but not be in a crowd? Over these past several weeks, we’ve explored several possibilities. If there was a time to take a path or trail less traveled, it might be now. Under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order, people may engage in outdoor activity including walking, hiking, running, cycling or any other recreational activity consistent with remaining at least six feet from people from outside the individual’s household.
GOLDEN TWP. —
Today, we’re going off the beaten track and heading into open sand.
Our quest for places to walk less traveled and more easily separated from other leads to the dunes of two state parks, Silver Lake in Oceana County and Ludington.
Both boast impressive dune systems but are quite different.
Silver Lake State Park is home to Michigan’s only state park sand dune ORV area that by this time most years features scores of dune buggies and other vehicles their machine’s ability to climb the open sand of this unique park.
Due to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Stay Home, Stay Safe executive orders, the ORV area at Silver Lake remains closed until June 3. That means for a couple more weeks one can walk the adjacent pedestrian area of dunes without hearing the roar of engines.
The pedestrian access to the open dune walking area is located off a parking lot at the end of Shore Drive. You can climb a stairway at the end of the lot, a forested dune from the center of the lot, or the advancing face of an open dune at the road’s end to gain access to mountains of sand, some of it blowing with any wind.
This is not your typical walk in a typical park. It involves climbing in loose sand in potentially harsh conditions. The reward for doing so is experiencing a desert like world of sandy beauty between the shores of Lake Michigan and Silver Lake.
Tree trunks, once buried and now re-exposed, jut out of a valley where the sand has ripples as distinct as those on water. Bits of wood, sanded by the grit blowing in the wind, intermix with other artifacts in the sea of sand.
If it’s chilly or breezy, one can be cold in the windy side of a dune, but hot on the leeward side where sun is baking down and reflecting off soft and still moving sand.
The landscape can be a bit disorienting, too. Walking along the top of one dune, it was difficult in one area to determine the edge of a steep dune face that dropped off sharply to, more settled packed sand 15 feet below.
Undulating hills of sand met a crystal-clear blue sky on the recent afternoon we walked. With no ORV traffic, the dunes were quiet. There was plenty of room to keep distance from several other groups often out of view behind dunes.
Since Silver Lake’s dunes are moving, there isn’t the same worry of damaging them by running, rolling or sliding down their face in the sand. You can let your inner child free. Faces of some dunes are steep to the point of being sheer drop-offs.
Dogs must be leashed. Glass bottles are not allowed.
How far you walk is up to you. There’s no real trail to follow — you pick a route.
On a hot day, you’d be well-served to have sunscreen, a hat and water. A picnic area and rustic toilet is at the parking lot.
LUDINGTON STATE PARK DUNES
The dunes of Ludington State Park are different. Found both north and south of the beach house, the ones to the south along M-116 provide the easiest access. Park on the west side of M-116 near where paths lead in.
These dunes are vegetated and more fragile than are Silver Lake’s open dunes.
Beach grass, puccoon, beach pea and sand cherry are fragile and tough. They live in a harsh climate of extreme heat, intense cold, dry and at times very wet.
They play an important role. Their roots hold sand in place, anchoring the dunes in place.
A walker is encouraged to tread carefully to avoid harming the plants or creating spots where the sand begins again to blow.
For the most part, there aren’t established paths. If you prefer, a marked looped trail heads south through vegetated dunes from the western side of the dune the Skyline Trail sits atop. Access the trail from the road to the amphitheater.
Walking in the dunes without a path requires one to pick one’s way between, around and sometimes over dunes and interdunal ponds. This spring the ponds are filled with water.
Whereas Silver Lake’s dunes are Sahara-like in their expanse of moving, undulating sand, Ludington’s have hidden gems of ponds and pockets of woods. Pay attention to tracks from a diversity of wildlife. You might see a deer scamper off over a crest of a dune or into a pocket of trees. You might find geese or ducks enjoying a pond. Or maybe you’ll find where plants, blowing in the wind, trace a circular pattern in the sand.
As the sun moves through the sky, different parts of the dunes take on different moods. Sunrise and sunset shadows can darken and cool the valleys long before the sun rises or sets on the horizon.
Old pond bottoms may have stones to forage through.
Because of the beach grass which can be prickly if stepped on, shoes or at least sandals are recommended.
The dunes show a different facet of the gem that is Ludington State Park. Walking in them might not be for everyone, and their beauty requires users to respect the or risk damage to that beauty, but they offer a walk of whatever length you’d like in an environment generally lightly traveled.