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Look at heavily wooded Lansing, the “city in the forest,” from the top of a tall building like Sparrow Hospital and you can hardly tell where the neighborhoods end and the parks begin. But they’re out there, all right — some 111 parks covering 2,000 acres in Lansing alone.
Only last week, two brand new parks, with completely opposite recreational styles, opened in greater Lansing. Holt’s Esker Landing, a stunning, undeveloped lake that wears nothing but a spiffy new boat launch, and Rotary Park in downtown Lansing, a crowded urban hangout clothed in dozens of riverside tables, a sand-y beach and a forest of lights. So whether your style is gregarious and social or get-the-hell-away-from-me, there are plenty of places to get out there and recreate.
Without a doubt, the crown jewel of Lansing’s park system is the River Trail. The velvet asphalt thread winds along the Grand and Red Cedar rivers from Old Town through downtown, the east side and a zone of splendid woodlands all the way to MSU. Counting its various extensions, the trail system is almost 20 miles long and tinker-toys together dozens of parks, including Potter Park Zoo, historic sites and museums and innumerable neighborhood eateries and watering holes. Watch for herons, bald eagles, deer, turtles and even beavers and mink along the stunning southern spur to Hawk Island County Park. Most of the main trail has recently been resurfaced, with several new bridges — just in time for glorious fall color rides and walks.
Frances Park on the west side is the queen of Lansing’s parks and the best sunset viewing spot in the county. Perched on a high bluff over the Grand River, the park is adorned with gardens (including a rose garden with 150 varieties) and framed with ancient trees. It’s a go-to spot for newlyweds, old-ly-weds and even never-weds to top off a special day with a fragrant stroll and a breathtaking vista.
Ingham County’s Hawk Island Park is a picture postcard of urban recreation. With woodlands and shoreline for those who prefer rustic walks, along with picnic pavilions, a splash pad and a playground for kids. Stroll around the lake, roast a weinie, spot an owl, set sail in a giant plastic swan or just revel in a multicultural, diverse scene.
Perhaps the ultimate getaway in the Lansing area is Ingham County’s Burchfield Park in Delhi Charter Township near Holt, a major treasure on the wilderness scale of a state park. The park stretches with acres and acres of trails along the Grand River, boat rental, swimming, disc golf and lots more.
Fenner Arboretum at 2020 E. Mount Hope Ave., soon to undergo a major expansion, has miles of trails, nature exhibits and the most impressive assemblage of turtles you’ll see this side of the Galapagos, all within spitting distance of the MSU campus.
For a unique urban park experience, Moores Park, on the Grand River downtown in the shadow of the Eckert Station’s three smokestacks, is a great place to picnic, fish, or just soak in the shade of ancient trees that R.E. Olds himself probably enjoyed back in the day. The historic circular Bintz pool, one of only a handful left operating in the United States, is well worth a visit, even to admire from dry land.
Hunter Park, at 1400 E. Kalamazoo St., on the east side has a huge hoop house, a swimming pool and a nice loop of asphalt for walking.
A sleeper among area parks is the gigantic, recently opened Crego Park, a wooded lake tucked somehow in Lansing’s east side. It is a great spot for fishing, kayaking or just escaping. The park can be accessed from the River Trail or from the intersection of Mount Hope and Fidelity roads.