Aug 18 2011
Most towns of a certain size boast a do-everything park. It’s usually on the edge of town. There are usually soccer fields and baseball diamonds. Kids can be heard on the play structures, disc golfers decapitate each other in the woods and picnickers turn brats on the grill. In Monroe, that’s Munson Park. In Adrian, that’s Heritage Park. And in the Ann Arbor/Ypsi area, that’s Rolling Hills County Park.
In terms of hiking, these parks provide a few things that are essential. First, they contain large amounts of acreage very close to significant population centers. Hikers need land and these parks have it. Second, these parks are convenient. Hikers need someplace to go in between trips to Yosemite and Glacier. Places like Munson, Heritage and Rolling Hills are great places to log a few trail miles between the end of work and darkness.
And those within range of Washtenaw County’s Rolling Hills County Park have a growing network of trails to explore. Rolling Hills is a large park at 363 acres. As the name suggests, there are some smallish hills within its boundaries, most notably in southern areas of the park. Visitors will find a variety of trail types, from paved bike trails to dirt nature paths.
Most recently, mountain bikers have created a 3.1 mile system of multi-use dirt paths that should draw interest from hikers. The trailhead for this mountain bike loop is a parking lot just to the south of the water park area. This trailhead, however, presents a practical problem. The park charges a $9 admission fee for non-county residents. That’s a high price to pay for a dayhike.
So I would suggest starting a hike of this loop at Ypsilanti Township’s Hewen’s Creek Park. From this location, a hiker should head west 3,000 feet on Bemis Road to the intersection with Stony Creek Rd. The northwest corner of this intersection is part of Rolling Hills County Park. A temporary trail begins at this corner and heads northwest through a once-farmed field.
After a few hundred feet, a hiker moves through an open gate and into the main trail loop. The trail passes to the south, crosses a bridge and begins to dodge back and forth between the park’s fence line along Bemis Rd. and the park’s fishing pond. There are some genuine hills in this section which make for fun hiking. The woods are mature, making for pleasant scenery.
The mountain bike planners have created some skill tests along the route for bikers. These are small spurs marked “hard way”. Generally, these alternate paths have a few more hills and twisty turns than the main route. They are fun alternatives for hikers.
About a mile into the hike, the path rises to the top of a ridge and Rolling Hills’ fishing pond comes into view. It is highly unlikely that this is a natural pond. However, it is reasonably large in size and the view from the hilltop provides a some scenery that is not usual for hiking areas to the southeast of Ann Arbor.
One thing needs to be noted about the Rolling Hills mountain bike trail system. It shares the area with a walking path, some paved trails, dirt nature trails and a disc golf course. It’s generally not difficult to follow, but there are some points at which a hiker has to keep his or her head up to follow the desired trail. And the frequent intersections tend to make the overall hike a bit choppy.
Soon, the trail parallels the paved walking trail to the west of the Rolling Hills water park. The northernmost sections of this trail are problematic currently. As mentioned previously, the trail system and other facilities at the park are being expanded. The construction closes a section of trail. I had no problems the time I visited crossing to an open section, but this might not always be true in the next few months.
The trail eventually reaches the official trailhead. Happy sounds from the water park are apparent. The trail crosses the main park road and then descends back into the forest, past some nature trails and back to the gate that marks the beginning of the loop.
From here, it is a short walk back across the field and down Bemis Rd. to Hewen’s Creek Park. All told, this route is about four miles in length. It is not the best four mile hike in the area, but it has terrain, some scenery and a convenient location for hikers who want something a little different in the area just to the south of Ypsilanti.
MMBA Trail Guide: