Improved physical health, mental well-being, a stronger kinship with the natural world – all of these are well-documented perks that come from time spent outdoors.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources – with an offering of special Valentine’s Day weekend events – hopes to add new relationships and friendships to that list of benefits. The DNR has planned a series of “Mitten Mixer” outdoor recreation events Feb. 14-17 at state parks and recreation areas statewide, geared to get singles outside, active and enjoying the company of others.
“We want to take our love for the great outdoors and provide creative opportunities to bring people together who just might be looking for a new way to meet like-minded folks,” said Maia Stephens, recreation programmer in the DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division.
Stephens said the idea for Mitten Mixers grew naturally – no pun intended – out of the DNR’s ongoing effort to more broadly market Michigan’s world-class parks and outdoor recreation resources to residents.
“Michigan has more than 100 beautiful parks, and you just can’t beat the scenery or ambience,” said Stephens.
“Whether you want to meet new people or simply enjoy a different kind of ‘date night,’ our Mitten Mixer lineup has something for just about everyone,” she added. “And as you’re meeting people at these events, how great is it to know you already share something in common?”
For example, anyone who’s ever been curious about snowshoeing along a lantern-lit path will want to check out William Mitchell State Park in Cadillac on Thursday, Feb. 14.
Everyone can warm up around the campfire, roast s’mores and meet other singles with an enthusiasm for the outdoors. There will be time to explore the visitor center and enjoy hot chocolate, coffee and cookies (from the Friends of William Mitchell State Park, for a small donation that will go toward planting more trees at the park).
Even if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate with ideal snowshoeing conditions, people will still be able to enjoy the northern winter scenery with a hike along the trail.
Think your destiny is written in the stars? Bundle up for a night of stargazing at Wilderness State Park in Emmet County on Friday, Feb. 15.
Known as a “dark sky park,” Wilderness State Park is considered an excellent place from which to view various star patterns. At this Mitten Mixer outing, randomly selected groups of four will head out on a constellation search along a 1.5-mile, lantern-lit trail. Constellation diagrams and information will be available at stops along the route.
Afterward, stargazers will return to the park for some group games and a warm-up with hot cocoa.
Those who prefer something a little different might want to venture on Saturday, Feb. 16, toward Muskegon State Park for a glide on the skating rink, or to Holly State Recreation Area for a photo scavenger hunt, followed by snacks, games and good conversation ‘round the campfire.
Stephens, an avid outdoors-woman and fan of all things Michigan, believes the state parks’ Mitten Mixers offer singles the right blend of adventure, excitement and encouragement – while building residents’ awareness about the parks’ plentiful amenities and real value.
“For just $11, you can get the Recreation Passport, which gives you access to every state park and recreation area statewide,” she said. “With the Recreation Passport, your outdoor playground just got a whole lot bigger.
“I can’t think of better places to meet people and explore the great outdoors with newfound friends.”
Beyond the Mitten Mixers, the DNR has planned a number of family- and couple-friendly events designed to keep winter recreation going strong. On Saturday, Feb. 16, consider:
- Winter Festival at Bay City Recreation Area – Celebrate winter with a family ice-fishing derby, snow snake races, crafts, bird marathon, backyard bird feeding workshop, ice fishing, snow shoe hikes, raffle and a live animal program.
- Family Ice Fishing and Bonfire at Waterloo Recreation Area – Watch an ice-fishing demonstration, make your own fishing pole and enjoy other winter games and activities. Part of the lake will be cleared for skating. Warm up afterwards around a bonfire while you roast marshmallows and drink hot chocolate.
- Snowshoe Walk at Ludington State Park – Enjoy a one-and-a-half-hour guided snowshoe walk through the park’s snow-covered sand dunes, while learning about the nature and history of the dunes. Snowshoes are available for loan on a first-come, first-served basis.
No matter what folks are interested in trying this season, Stephens said the DNR hopes that people just decide to mix it up a bit and make some connections at Michigan state parks.
“Try something different, meet new people, and surprise yourself,” she said. “It’s time to learn or rediscover just how much fun a Michigan winter can be.”
To get more details about all upcoming Mitten Mixers – on Valentine’s weekend and beyond – and other outdoor recreation programs available through the DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division, visit www.michigan.gov/stateparks.
Image courtesy Michigan DNR