A BACKSTAGE PASS WITH THIS YEAR’S WINNERS

THE TOP OF THE TOWN: Hawk Island Park

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Epic snow tubing in winter, swimming in the summer, fishing all year round, big and little barbecues, family reunions and solitary bench sits, a strolling and biking path that circumnavigates a picturesque lake — my heart, eyes and lungs have been refreshed and delighted more times than I can count by the Utopian scene at Ingham County’s Hawk Island Park, on Cavanaugh Road between Pennsylvania Avenue and Aurelius Road. 

On any given day, people of seemingly every age, race, ethnicity and fitness level are enjoying this miraculous little lake and its myriad delights. The park’s design gradually shades from more developed at the south end, with a boat launch, splash pad, mowed frolicking areas, picnic pavilions and volleyball courts, to the more rugged south end, where trail walkers routinely encounter herons, deer, turkeys and frogs. You can find relief here, figuratively and literally, on sloping hills and rocky, forested twists and turns that add extra interest to the park and its meandering loop of trail. 

Fishing docks are spaced all around the lake. There’s a nifty boardwalk along roughly one-third the shoreline, and there are plenty of secluded spots to just sit and gaze at the foliage on the lake’s central island. Improvements, like the new fishing docks and well-placed benches, are constantly being made, thanks largely to the county trails and parks millage. 

At the heart of the park, a community-built playground rings with laughter, the dinks of a step-on xylophone and the squeaks of a never-empty swing set. Yes, I have stomped on the xylophone.

I have kayaked to the island and flushed out a heron. I have consumed many cups of coffee and cookies, on the commanding south bench, with its panoramic view of the entire lake. On winter walks, I have warmed myself at the wood fire where snow tubers take a break between runs. I have even been hooted at — and been pooped on — by an owl on the north end of the trail. 

I have not braved the tubing hill or done the Hawk Island Triathlon, but I cheer on those who do. I also salute the county mothers and fathers who had the vision to turn this old gravel pit into one of the area’s most beautiful, well-loved and comforting spaces.

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