The only thing you can be sure of in life – beyond death and taxes – is that the amount of undeveloped land in the world, places without the heavy footprint of man, will never increase.
It will only shrink.
As our population grows and our needs for fuel, food and housing increases, natural areas, whether they are small wetlands or vast wildernesses, will always be under the threat of urbanization and mineral exaction.
Death, taxes and development.
I’m not out to single-handedly save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil companies or the panda bear from extinction. My goals have never been that lofty. All I want is a place to escape the cellphones, Facebooks and 24-hour news cycles of my world. I just want to leave the city I live in, however briefly, to see nothing that man has made and to hear only what nature intended.
In that regard, Oakland County Parks, with help from the Michigan Trust Fund and the North Oakland Headwaters Conservancy, gave me a wonderful Christmas gift this year when it purchased Upper Bushman Lake.
I live in an area of Oakland County that is anchored by Clarkston and split by I-75. It’s a land of strip malls and subdivisions and is crowned by DTE Music Theater, the country’s largest outdoor music venue that provides nightly traffic jams throughout the summer.
Yet only a couple of miles away is Upper Bushman Lake. The 31-acre, spring-fed lake is more like a chain of three lakes and forms the headwaters of the Clinton River. The lake is surrounded by wetlands, including a rare prairie fen and a southern wet meadow, and a hardwood conifer forest, one of only 30 in the state and the most southerly.
The lake and the surrounding 186 acres the county purchased are also ideally located adjacent to Independence Oaks, the largest Oakland County park. But the most amazing thing about Upper Bushman is that fact that the entire lake was owned by a single family who cherished its natural beauty and never allowed it to be developed.
Dan Stencil, executive director of Oakland County Parks, calls it “literally an upnorth experience right in our backyard.”
Just 2 miles from where parrotheads gather for Jimmy Buffet concerts every summer is now a county park that spans 1,274 acres, including several lakes and 4 miles of the headwaters of the Clinton River. It’s a county park that is larger than two-thirds of all state parks and while a portion of Independence Oaks is developed with picnic areas, shelters, a beach and a nature center, the vast majority is not other than trails.
That is the plan for the new section, referred to as Independence Oaks-North. It will open to the public this April after a small gravel parking lot is placed along Sashabaw Road just north of the park’s main entrance and a trail and boardwalk is built to connect it to Upper Bushman Lake.
After that amenities in the area will be minimal and activities will be restricted to what has been termed “passive outdoor recreation;” hiking, canoeing, birding, fishing, snowshoeing. No cars in the area, no outdoor motors on the lake, no family reunions along the shoreline.
Simply an undeveloped tract where you can escape.
The cost of such place in today’s world was $2.8 million, split by the county, the conservancy and the trust fund. Many will argue that in these difficult times the money is better spent on the needs of society. And, lord knows, Oakland County and Michigan has more than their share of budget deficits, under funded schools, laid-off workers and potholes.
But natural areas, if not protected, rarely stay natural and once developed can never be wild again. Where would we escape to then?
For information on trails, facilities and location of Independence Oaks County Park go to www.michigantrailmaps.com.