By Mark Brooky
Northwest Ottawa County is awash with parks for residents and visitors alike to enjoy their leisure time.
One of the better known is Grand Haven State Park, with its sandy beaches and wildly popular campground. New this year at the park that dates back to 1921 are fishing poles and tackle boxes donated by Pursuing a Dream Foundation for fishing programs being offered to kids, and a wheelchair that can be pushed through the sand.
Here is a list of popular parks the area has to offer, along with a couple of hidden gems:
• Grand Haven State Park is a hub of summer activity on the city’s west end. Bordering both Lake Michigan and the Grand River, visitors can enjoy a trip down the pier, a picnic or simply relaxing on the beach. The 48-acre state park also offers campsites for an extended stay and easy access to the boardwalk, downtown Grand Haven and the Musical Fountain.
• Grand Haven City Beach borders the state park and is located along Harbor Drive. Dogs are allowed on the beach at all times, except when swim buoys are in place. During those times, dogs are allowed south of the swim area. Parking, although limited, is free.
• North Beach Park is located in Ferrysburg, about 2 miles north of the Grand Haven pier. It offers a quieter alternative to the Grand Haven beaches. Accessible from North Shore Drive, the park features 745 feet of Lake Michigan shoreline that’s ideal for swimming. For those wishing to take in the view, an overlook deck is a short climb up a wooden stairway. North Beach Park is open year-round and includes a picnic shelter, a barrier-free beach walkway and a volleyball court. Modern restrooms are open during the summer months.
• Rosy Mound Natural Area is a short trip away from more traditional beaches. A 0.7-mile hiking trail and 1,000 feet of stairs separate the parking lot for the shoreline at Rosy Mound, located at 13925 Lakeshore Ave., a few miles south of Grand Haven. Visitors will view a classic Great Lakes dune system. While the Ottawa County park is open year-round, parking fees are in effect Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. Pets are not allowed.
• Kirk Park is also an Ottawa County park, located at the southwest tip of Grand Haven Township. It features 68 acres of beach across a third of a mile of Lake Michigan shore. Like Rosy Mound, Kirk Park includes nature trails that provide excellent views and offer more than a standard visit to the beach. Open year-round, it has hiking trails that transform into ungroomed cross-country ski trails, and an overnight lodge during the winter months. Other features of the park, located at 9791 Lakeshore Ave., include a children’s playground, horseshoe pit and modern restrooms.
• Lakeside Beach is nestled on the shore of Spring Lake in Spring Lake Village. This beach offers something the others don’t: lifeguards on duty from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the summer. Built on the site of a former cross-lake ferry dock at the north end of Lake Avenue, Lakeside Beach also includes three picnic shelters.
• Deer Creek Park is tucked away at the mouth of Deer Creek, this 2-acre park offers a peaceful retreat for fishing and picnicking. A boat launch (small boats and canoes only) offers access to the Grand River. Facilities include picnic tables and pit toilets. It is located in Polkton Township where 60th Avenue meets the north bank of the Grand River. It is open from April 1 through Oct. 31, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Nov. 1 through March 31, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. No cost.
• Hemlock Crossing offers 239 acres of woods and wetlands along the Pigeon River. More than 6 miles of trails for hiking and cross-country skiing meander through bottomland and upland forest, old pine plantations, and along the river. A pedestrian bridge and several overlooks offer scenic views of the river, wetlands, natural springs and woods. Facilities include two small picnic shelters, a kayak/canoe launch and more than a mile of paved trail. Pine Bend is a secondary access on the west end of the property that offers parking and a trailhead. Hemlock Crossing is also the site of the Nature Education Center. There are no entry fees at Hemlock Crossing or Pine Bend, which are both open year-round. Facilities include two picnic shelters with tables and grills, modern restrooms open during warm months, and pit toilets available year-round. It is located west of U.S. 31 on West Olive Road. Pine Bend can be reached by traveling west on Croswell Street from U.S. 31 to 156th Avenue and turning south. The park is open April 1 through Oct. 31, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Nov. 1 through March 31, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. No cost.
• Musketawa Trail is a 26-mile paved all-season linear park constructed on an abandoned rail line between Marne and Muskegon. Trail uses include hiking, biking, Rollerblading, snowmobiling and horseback riding. Facilities include picnic tables and portable toilets in parking areas. For more information, visit musketawatrail.org or contact the county parks office. In Ottawa County, parking for the trail is located on Eighth Avenue near Marne and on Sehler Street near Conklin. There are no fees and it is open year-round.
• Pigeon Creek Park offers a peaceful retreat for the outdoor enthusiast. The county park is 282 acres with another 150 adjacent acres of county open-space land. More than 10 miles of trails wind through old pine plantations, mature deciduous forests and bottomland forests along the Pigeon River. The trail system includes designated trails for hiking, biking and equestrian use. During the winter, this park is a popular cross-country ski destination with groomed trails. The park also offers 3 miles of ski trails and a sledding hill with lights for night use. The Pigeon Creek Lodge provides ski rental, a food and beverage concession, and serves as a warming house (open limited hours). Facilities include seasonal concessions, picnic tables, grills, modern restrooms and pit toilets.
It is open April 1 through Nov. 30, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Nov. 1 through March 31, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Winter hours may vary depending on ski and sledding conditions. Call 616-738-9531 for daily updates. No fees. The park is at 12524 Stanton St., West Olive.
• Riverside Park boasts nearly a mile of frontage along the south bank of the Grand River, this 64-acre park is a great place for picnicking, boating and fishing. The park includes a boat launch (fee required), picnic shelter, large pond with a barrier-free fishing dock and more than 1,000 feet of grassy picnic area along the riverbank. Fishing is allowed along the riverbank and from the edge of the pond. Facilities also include tables and grills, along with pit toilets. It is open April 1 through Nov. 30, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Nov. 1 through March 31, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The park is not plowed during the winter, which limits its access. A self-serve boat launch fee is strictly enforced. The park is at 10317 N. Cedar Drive, Robinson Township.
• Crockery Creek Natural Area is 331 acres of nature with frontage on both the Grand River and Crockery Creek. It features 2 miles of hiking and cross-country ski trails. The natural area features mature wooded ridges, floodplain forest, open hardwoods, wet meadows and buttonbush swamp. Facilities include a portable toilet and a parking lot, in addition to hiking and cross-country ski trails. It is open April 1 through Oct. 31, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Nov. 1 through March 31, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. No fees. To find the park, travel west on Wren Drive from its intersection with Leonard Street to the trailhead.
• Ottawa County has many other parks. Visit miottawa.org/parks for details.
• Ferrysburg has Coast Guard Park, which includes a dog park, off North Shore Drive; the Kitchel/Lindquist Dunes Preserve, which is actually in the city of Grand Haven’s north side; Sunnyside Park at 17200 Valley City Ave.; and William Montague Ferry Park on the waterfront off Pine Street.
• Grand Haven city has several waterfront parks: Bicentennial, Chinook Pier, East Grand River, Harbor Island and Linear Park, as well as City Beach. Visit grandhaven.org for details.
• Grand Haven Township parks: Hofma Park, off Ferris and Sleeper streets; Hofma Preserve, off 168th Avenue to the end of Sleeper Street; Mercury Drive Park, off Mercury Drive; Odawa/Battle Point Launch, at Mercury and 144th Avenue on the Grand River; and Pottawattomie Park, off Comstock Street.
• Robinson Township Park is at the corner of 120th Avenue and Buchanan Street.
• Spring Lake Township has two parks: the Rycenga Recreational Park off Hemlock Road, between 168th Avenue and West Spring Lake Road; and Water Tower Park, at Van Wagoner and West Spring Lake Road.
• Spring Lake Village offers Central Park, Lakeside Bech, Mill Point Park and Whistlestop Park. Visit springlakevillage.org for details.