The Pelizzari Natural Area/Skiing and Chocolate at Shanty Creek

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 (www.whitepinestampede.org) 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…

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About mikelovestc

These days, I’m the media relations guy for the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, but before that I spent 25 years as a reporter and columnist at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, a job that frequently took me out into the most remote backroads, forests, beaches and islands of the beautiful Grand Traverse Region. My strategy was pretty simple — just drive, paddle, ski or walk until you’re certain you’re lost, and then find somebody to talk to. It was a great job! I never intended to live in Traverse City. I grew up in Grand Rapids, spent four years in the Coast Guard in places like Miami Beach, Monterey and San Francisco, and when I finally graduated from college I took a summer job at the Miami Herald. To my surprise, I discovered I didn’t like the tropics nearly as much as I thought I would — and when the Record-Eagle offered me a job I took it, figuring I’d put in a year or two and head off to someplace like Seattle or Portland. What I discovered very quickly is that this place gets to you in a variety of unexpected ways. The beaches here are as lovely as anyplace else I’ve ever been, the weather is mild all year round — warm enough for swimming in September and cold enough for skiing in December — and just about the time you’re getting tired of one season you get another one every bit as pleasant. The people are laid-back and friendly, the music and arts scene is awesome, and the place still hasn’t gotten so sophisticated that a guy like me feels out of place.
This entry was posted in Food & Drink, nature, Outdoor Sports, Shanty Creek, skiing, winter and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Pelizzari Natural Area/Skiing and Chocolate at Shanty Creek

  1. Howard Byrne says:

    Well written, Mike.

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