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Cross-country skiing has been a hit here since the 1970s, when Ed and Dorothy Elliot of Midland taught beginners at Saginaw's Imerman Park and elsewhere: "Everybody fall, and we'll learn how to get up," Dorothy would instruct with a laugh. The falls grew rarer, the skiing became more polished (and popular), and the laughter lingered.
Equipment has improved, with easy-to-use and efficient no-wax skis, and diagonal-stride skiing joined by skate-skiing; groomed trails for each wind through this region.
Yes, give us some snow, and we're skiing along the Great Lakes Bay Regional Trail, trail segments within Bay City State Park, and at the Midland City Forest Winter Sports Park (where rental ski packages are available).
Chippewa Nature Center in Midland opens its trails to skiers, and Pine Haven Recreation Area in Sanford offers exciting trails, 11 k for classic skiing, 3.7 k for skate-skis.
In Midland, skiers also take to the Grand Curve Trail, Chippewa Trail, and the 30-mile Pere Marquette Rail Trail, all radiating from The Tridge downtown.
Cross-country ski technology was imported, while snowshoes were created here by Native Americans who discovered they actually made some journeys easier in winter than in summer!
Trappers, loggers and others adopted the native footgear, and in time, recreationists learned that snowshoeing is not only a blast, but a great way to stay in shape. Some of us still sling to ash-framed, rawhide-laced traditional snowshoes, but modern metal frames and synthetic decks have reduced size and weight.
Snowshoes come in different sizes and shapes to match users and uses — from running on groomed trails to busting through brush. In Midland, Chippewa Nature Center loans equipment to participants in its many snowshoe hikes and programs.
Top spots? You're likely to find snowshoe tracks traversing most any park or golf course. Perennial favorites, though, include Chippewa Nature Center and Midland City Forest Winter Sports Park.
Fat tire bikes are stars of summer, when they handle sandy beaches and boggy trails. But for many the prime time for these specialty bikes, with tires as wide as five inches across, is winter.
This winter, don't forget a trip to Midland's Dow Gardens — and the nation's longest canopy walk within its Whiting Forest. Extending for a total of 1,400 feet and elevated up to 40 feet above the ground, the Canopy Walk closes only when it ices over.
Skis, snowshoes and bikes have their fans, but for many winter wouldn't be complete without hours enjoyed in such traditional activities as sledding, tobogganing and ice skating.
Midland City Forest Winter Sports Park offers all three, including some of Michigan's few remaining toboggan tracks. From their towers, three to four people per rented toboggan race down snow-packed and iced runs. Rental is $8 per hour, with a two-hour maximum rental, first-come, first-served.
Sledding at Midland City Forest takes place on a groomed-daily hill, lighted until 10 p.m. each night. There's even artificially made snow added when conditions are right! Bring your own sled or tube — no steel-runner sleds, toboggans or snowboards — or rent at just $4 for two hours.
There's just something charming about outdoor ice skating, and the Midland City Forest Winter Sports Park offers a large, lighted rink with a fire pit you can warm up at after your skate.
Another option is Saginaw's Hoyt Park, where an outdoor ice rink (including warming house, refreshment stand and skate rentals) joins sledding and snowboarding hills.
Bay City's waterfront Wenonah Park offers the Nickless Family Community Pavilion and its large, colorfully lighted rink, plus on-site skate rentals.
New to the region's ice skating offerings, The Frankenmuth Ice Rink in Zehnder Park can handle up to 200 skaters per hour — cooled by its own refrigeration system and complete with its own Zamboni! Rent skates on-site to enjoy when it opens to the public in mid-November.
Another way to explore winter's wonders — and maybe catch the makings for a splendid meal — is on a frozen lake just full of fish.
On Saginaw Bay, known as one of North America's best walleye fisheries, the fish are so numerous the Michigan Department of Natural Resources actually wants anglers to catch and keep more of them. That's the kind of conservation work an angler can sink his or her teeth into!
Champion tournament angler, guide and educator Mark Martin holds one of his popular Ice Fishing Vacation Schools on Saginaw Bay, recruiting a faculty of seasoned guides who give one-on-one instruction — in classroom seminars and on the ice — to both new and seasoned anglers.
Steve Griffin, a Midland-based, full-time freelance outdoors writer, has been covering that beat for newspapers and magazines for longer than he likes to admit. He began with a manual typewriter and a film camera — and says that in every way outdoors, these are the "good old days"!