The Middle Meadow at the Center Road Natural Area
The Middle Meadow at the Pelizzari Natural Area
By MIKE NORTON We must just be living right in Traverse City, because the Laws of Nature seem to have been held in abeyance this winter. I'm speaking specifically about the well-known law that you can have five beautiful sunny, cold winter days in a row -- as long as the first one is Monday and the last one is Friday. Because when the weekend comes, the clouds are sure to come rolling in for two dreary days of gloom, wind and even - if you've been REALLY bad - sloppy rain and slush. This season, though, the pattern seems to have reversed itself; the weekdays have been fairly ho-hum, but the weekends have been spectacular! On Saturday Karen and I drove into town to catch the first few games of the new Traverse City Outdoor Classic hockey tournament, which was great fun. (I think this is an event that will get bigger and better each year!) Then, on the way back to Old Mission, we decided to stop and get some exercise of our own by snowshoeing through Peninsula Township's nearly-new Pelizzari Natural Area. This park has been open for two years now, but if you don't know about it you're liable to drive right past without seeing much more than a small parking lot and a scraggly meadow at the base of the Old Mission Peninsula on Center Road, just a half-mile or so north of the city limits. But it's a treasure: 62 acres of upland meadows and mature forest that roll gently downhill to the shore of East Grand Traverse Bay. It includes several cathedral-like stands of tall pines, two separate meadows, and a densely-shaded forest of mature hemlocks where barred owls are regularly seen. The volunteers who built the trail system here - led, I think, by Dick Naperala of the Grand Traverse Hiking Club -- did a splendid job of making the most of this long narrow parcel of land. Once we left the open terrain near the parking lot (a former fruit orchard, and the least interesting part of the preserve) several trails wind their way down the steep hillside. Here and there, you catch tantalizing glimpses of the water, and there's a fine diversity of open and sheltered spaces.
Snowshoeing through the Hemlocks at Center Road
Snowshoeing through the Hemlocks at Pelizzari Natural Area
I'm sure the work on this place isn't finished yet, but they've made a good start. Best of all, they've preserved some crucial open space in an area that's rapidly being developed. It's good terrain for hiking and snowshoeing, but probably a little too tight in the turns for skiers. This weekend, the cross-country crowd will be over at Shanty Creek Resorts near Bellaire, anyway, since Saturday is the day of the White Pine Stampede, one of the area's two great ski races. The White Pine ( is an official Michigan Cup cross-country ski race (in 10k, 20k and 50k loops) that starts in the village of Mancelona and travels a hilly course through the wooded forests around the Shanty Creek. I skied some of that course last year (not in the race) and it's a very challenging bit of ground! The folks at Shanty have come up with an interesting event to help racers put back some of the pounds they would have sweated off on the trail. It's called the Mid-Winter's Chocolate Therapy Festival. According to their press release, "Guests will be treated to a variety of chocolate tastings, chocolate making demos, chocolate spa treatments, as well as determine winners of chocolate cooking competitions.  Chocolatiers from around Michigan will be on hand providing their signature samplings, as well as unique displays that promise to capture everyone's interest.  In addition, vendors will also be offering special sales opportunities for the upcoming Valentines Day." Hm. I feel a sugar buzz coming on...