Indoors or out, we metro Detroiters put our downtime to good use in all seasons. Here’s a short list of what we do to keep active. And since we’re smack dab in the middle of one of the world’s greatest freshwater regions, don’t forget boating, swimming, and fishing.
3 Indoor Activities
Outdoor Adventure Center: Slated to open this month, the DNR’s big project across from William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor at Atwater Street and the Dequindre Cut Trail will include a kayak simulator, an archery range, and a suspended Cessna airplane, along with several more interactive exhibits centered on Michigan’s great outdoors.
Feather Bowling: Detroit’s favorite Belgian import can be played not only at the beloved Cadieux Café on the city’s east side but also Bath City Bistro in Mount Clemens.
Punch Bowl Social (right): Karaoke, bowling, pingpong, arcade games — this other reason to visit The Z goes far beyond the typical concept of a downtown bar-arcade.
1 Place To Do It All
It’s a gem, it’s a jewel, it’s a tradition. Belle Isle has been Detroit’s do-it-all park for decades, and between the iconic Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory with its towering palm trees, the Belle Isle Aquarium with its exotic fish, and Sunset Point with its unbeatable view of the skyline, it’s no surprise as to why.
There’s also the extensive running and biking paths, fishing piers, barbecue pits, the disc golf course, a giant slide, the children’s playground, and more.
Truth be told, aspects of the park are still in need of some major TLC, but much like the city it calls home, Belle Isle is in the midst of an encouraging renaissance. Efforts behind the “new-and-improved Belle Isle” have been led not only by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which took up management of the park in 2014, but also the Belle Isle Conservancy — a nonprofit dedicated to the restoration and preservation of the park and its structures.
Friends of the Belle Isle Aquarium, which became part of the Conservancy in 2012, played a major role in reopening the aquarium that same year. Other attractions have been renovated, including the Belle Isle Nature Zoo, whose 2013 updates included a new turtle habitat and a revamped lobby, and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, whose renovations, also completed in 2013, have reportedly led to twice its usual number of visitors.
This year, more attractions are scheduled for an upgrade, and 12 new concession and recreation vendors will be expanding the list of Belle Isle must-do’s. The park’s beleaguered golf practice center— now under new ownership, officially dubbed the Belle Isle Golf Range — is expected to maintain proper upkeep. The former Detroit Boat Club’s tenant, Friends of Detroit Rowing, is expected to refurbish and reopen the building by the end of the year. The nonprofit has offered rowing programs and classes at the building for years. It hopes to eventually rent the facility for weddings, public events, corporate gatherings, and private parties.
Belle Isle’s sports fields and athletic facilities will also receive updates thanks to a $325,000 grant from the National Park Service and its Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership. That’s good news for Come Play Detroit, which operates intramural sports leagues. The Detroit-based group will serve as the island’s athletic vendor while the DNR will oversee upgrades to the baseball and soccer fields, as well as its basketball and tennis courts. A lacrosse field and a cricket field are in the works, too.
And although they may not have been included in Frederick Law Olmsted’s original vision for the park in the 1880s, the canals of Belle Isle will once again be open to canoes and kayaks, which will be available to rent from new vendor Riverside Kayak Connection. Construction of two new floating docks on Lake Muskoday will also make it possible for visitors to launch their own kayaks and canoes on the island, and should you paddle over to the swimming beach on the island’s American side, you’ll also find cabanas, umbrellas, and lounge chairs available to rent courtesy of Caliente Detroit — an additional incentive to hit the beach and dig your toes into clean, restored sand. —Jeff Waraniak
3 Cool Water Parks
Wayne County Family Aquatic Center: Wave pools, toddler “splish-splash” land, water slides, and more at Chandler Park in Detroit.
Red Oaks Waterpark: A huge wave pool, soak station, river ride, and more in Madison Heights.
Turtle Cove Family Aquatic Center: Buckets of fun in Belleville, with waterslides and a zero-depth entry pool with lap lanes.
3 Outdoor Activities
The fun, the simplicity, the big red ball — you can relive your playground glory days with coed games and leagues organized by the Detroit Kickball Association and Come Play Detroit.
Detroit City Futbol League
Each team in the league represents one of Detroit’s historical neighborhoods, making it a great way to get involved in the community and enjoy the game.
West Bloomfield Adventure Park
Part obstacle course, part ropes course, part zipline adventure, this aerial forest park provides plenty of challenge for thrill seekers of all ages and skill levels.
3 Urban Bike Routes
Detroit Riverwalk and Dequindre Cut: From West Riverfront Park to GM Plaza to the murals stretching up to Eastern Market, these two routes are the liveliest in the city.
Midtown and Eastern Market Connector: Part of the Link Detroit project, the connector should be complete by the end of the summer. Bike lanes, public repair stations, and air pumps are also scheduled for installation on Cass Avenue.
Wherever Slow Roll’s Going: If you really want to get a feel for Detroit and the people in it, Slow Roll is the thing to do, and thanks to the ride’s recent partnership with the Detroit Police Department, the Monday night cruise is safer than ever.
1 Ride to See it All
Michigan’s Iron Belle Trail
Think of it as the Appalachian Trail. Only instead of one trail crossing multiple states, it’s two trails and two peninsulas.
The newly created (and still in progress) Iron Belle Trail connects an array of existing hiking and biking trails to create two contiguous routes — one for hiking and one for biking — both of which start on Belle Isle and end in Ironwood in the western U.P.
The 774-mile bike route hugs the eastern-central part of the Lower Peninsula before taking a southern route across the U.P. through towns like Escanaba and Iron Mountain, while the 1,259-mile hiking trail swings farther west in the Lower Peninsula to follow the already established North Country National Scenic Trail before taking a northern route across the U.P. through towns like Grand Marais and Marquette.
More than 60 percent of both trails are already open and ready to use.
According to Nancy Krupiarz, executive director of the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, the project could lead to a satisfying boost to tourism.
“This long trail traversing all of Michigan really enforces our national identity as a trail state,” Krupiarz says. “It serves as a magnet to bring visitors in.”
3 Places to Join a Cornhole League
On the Dunes, Commerce
526/Tequila Blue, Royal Oak
Augie’s Bar & Grill, Madison Heights
3 Great Suburban Rides
Kensington Metropark: The 8-mile paved hike/bike trail around Kent Lake has long been a metro Detroit favorite.
Paint Creek Trail: Michigan’s first Rail-to-Trail makes for a pleasant 8.9-mile cruise through Lake Orion, Rochester Hills, and other Oakland County townships.
Stony Creek Metropark: The largest of the Huron-Clinton Metroparks boasts a paved 6.1-mile trail around Stony Creek Lake, and mountain bikers can enjoy 14 miles of trails in the southwest section of the park.
3 Skateboard Parks
Modern Skate Park, Royal Oak
Riley Skate Park, Farmington Hills
Concrete Jungle, Westland
3 Other Sports Teams to Root For
Detroit City FC (right): The Tigers and Red Wings might have a passionate fan base, but so does “Le Rouge.” Fans of Detroit’s most popular soccer team make games at Cass Tech a blast to watch win or lose.
Detroit Derby Girls: Things can get brutal during a roller derby bout, but there’s a grace and an art to it all… and besides, who doesn’t want to cheer on their favorite skaters when they have names like Helen Killer and Murder City Mistress?
Detroit Pride: Football isn’t just a man’s sport. Detroit’s newest full tackle women’s football team played its first season in the Independent Women’s Football league earlier this year.
1 Exclusive Bowling League
The Detroit Athletic Club celebrated its 100th anniversary this year at its building on Madison Avenue downtown. Looking at the elegant Albert Kahn building, would you picture the eight bowling lanes housed in the lower level?
Yet out of all private club bowling programs, including those found internationally, the DAC is the busiest, with 27 total leagues and more than 1,000 league bowlers.
Before transitioning over to the Madison Avenue building in 1915, the original clubhouse was founded in 1887, and that’s when the DAC’s bowling history begins.
Was bowling even the same game back in 1887?
“The American Bowling Congress that set the standards of the bowling game was founded in 1895, and our bowling program predates that sanctioning body of bowling,” DAC Bowling Director Tom Reaume says.
Back then, there were guys to hand-set the pins, and pins were a little different in terms of composition, but the shape has stayed the same, Detroit Athletic Club President Tony Magdowski explains.
Today, the camaraderie found among DAC members is what keeps the excitement of bowling alive. Members new to the game are encouraged by fellow members to give it a try.
“I met some of my very best friends from the bowling programs,” Magdowski says, adding that he’s bowled at the DAC for some 32 years (and even bowled a perfect 300 game there). His wife and son are also on bowling leagues.
“The whole clubhouse is a gem, but I would say the average Detroiter may not know that there’s a bowling alley on the lower level,” Magdowski says. “You get the opportunity to interact with doctors, CEOs, and a myriad of business leaders … And that’s really special.”
— Casey Nesterowich
3 Unique Sports Venues
The Wessen Lawn Tennis Club
What would you do with a former waterworks plant? In Pontiac, it’s now the site of Wessen Lawn Tennis Club — the nation’s first major lawn tennis club in North America in more than 100 years. There’s 24 outdoor grass courts, plus an Olympic-sized pool.
Can’t afford to join the DAC? (See above.) Go fowling in Hamtramck. Simply knock your opponents’ 10 bowling pins down by throwing a football at them. Simple, right? And if you get really good (or lucky), you’ll get a Bonk Honk at the adjacent bar (you sort of have to be there). BYO food.
The M1 Concourse
A development aimed at auto enthusiasts should be a slam-dunk here. Think of it as a safe and swanky condo to park your sports car plus take it out for a spin on a 1.5-mile track. The nearly 90-acre site will eventually include a restaurant, office space, retailers, and more. It’s slated to open in spring 2016.