Oakland County Parks adds nature center to Red Oaks County Park

On Oct. 1, 2012, Oakland County Parks and Recreation will begin operation and management of the Madison Heights Nature Center. The 25-year lease agreement between Oakland County and the City of Madison Heights was unanimously approved by the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission, the Oakland County Board of Commissioners and the Madison Heights City Council.  

The nature center will become part of Red Oaks County Park which currently includes a nine-hole golf course, waterpark, dog park and youth soccer complex. The facility will be renamed the Red Oaks Nature Center at Suarez Friendship Woods. The lease agreement between the city and Oakland County Parks will cost $1/year and stipulates the county will pay for the first $5,000 of improvement and maintenance projects, after which the city and parks system will split expenses equally.

“Our commissioners and staff are excited to add this facility that complements our offerings at Red Oaks County Park,” Parks and Recreation Executive Officer Dan Stencil said. “We foresee many opportunities to cross-promote the amenities including packages such as a nature center program in the morning and waterpark visit in the afternoon. Or, we can host dog park guests at the nature center on topics related to canines. What’s exciting about our new nature education model is that it’s not limited to the four walls of a building. We want to get our visitors outdoors where nature lives, whether that’s at the Red Oaks Nature Center or at one of the other 13 Oakland County Parks.”

This effort is part of Oakland County Parks and Recreation’s strategic master plan which includes a goal to acquire and/or develop additional parks and recreation facilities that provide regional recreation opportunities that enhance quality of life, according to Stencil.

“Red Oaks has a unique background. Residents may not know that the park makes productive and environmentally sustainable use of urban land, which, due to the location of the George W. Kuhn Drainage District, would otherwise be unavailable for development,” Stencil said. “A future goal is to work with the City of Madison Heights and the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner to link all of the facilities at Red Oaks – the nature center, dog park, golf course, waterpark and youth soccer complex – via a trails system that will improve connectivity and provide a safe place for city residents and regional visitors to walk, bike and blade. We hope to have established another 2.6 miles of trails within the city, in cooperation with these partners, in the next couple years.”
Since 1985, the parks system has operated the Wint Nature Center at Independence Oaks County Park near Clarkston, which also includes sensory and water gardens, access to 12 miles of hiking trails,     68-acre Crooked Lake and an outdoor amphitheater.

Currently, the parks system employs one full-time and one part-time naturalist. Additional volunteers will be recruited and trained for both locations to assist in facility operations, programs and special events.

“We have a long history of using talented volunteers at the Wint Nature Center for year-round nature education and natural resources stewardship,” Stencil said. “We hope to retain the enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers who have historically played a key role in the success of the Madison Heights Nature Center, hosting visitors in the absence of city funding for naturalist staff since 2010. Volunteers will be a key part of operations at both the new Red Oaks Nature Center and the Wint Nature Center.”

The goal, according to Stencil, is to have both nature centers open for public use approximately 20-25 hours a week initially using a three-pronged approach of facility-based, naturalist-based and resource-based services. These could include, such offerings as seasonal interpretive programs, scout badge days, on-site school visits, invasive species work days, butterfly and grassland bird surveys and events with partners including Huron-Clinton Metroparks and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Stencil said.

A key component will include the OC Parks Express Program which uses the parks system’s buses to transport visitors to an Oakland County Parks facility for a program or special event. This program is funded, in part, by the parks commission’s annual Recreation Assistance Partnership Program that dedicates $150,000 annually to community and school outreach programming.

The Red Oaks Nature Center is located at 30300 Hales Street, Madison Heights. The Wint Nature Center is located at 9501Sashabaw Road, Clarkston.

For more information about the 13 Oakland County Parks, click on DestinationOakland.com.