Out of doors recreation alternatives attract adventurers

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Some of Hillsdale County’s best-kept secrets lie just off the public highway, and opportunities for outdoor activities are never far away.

Explorers often visit the historic and mystical caves in the Lost Nations State Game Area, where outlaw Silas Doty hid with stolen horses in the 19th century.

And hikers will enjoy miles of scenic hiking trails that run from one end of the county to the other as part of the North Country Trail, stretching from the east coast throughout the state of Michigan and west through the upper peninsula.

While most water activities take place on the dozens of lakes and ponds in the county, others prefer to swim, kayak, canoe, and enjoy other worldly views on the St. Joseph River as the river widens and flows through forests meanders.

And some are still discovering new leisure opportunities that man has created.

Randy Jablonski acquired a property in southern Hillsdale County as a weekend getaway from the “concrete jungle” that surrounds his home in Metro Detroit, where he works in the automotive industry.

“We’ve been looking for a place to take a break from the city with the kids every once in a while, and we’ve absolutely fallen in love with the lake community down here,” Jablonski said. “And it’s nice to have a variety of things to do with them … it’s nice to see them put down their phones and just be kids.”

Jablonski said his family started geocaching this year and he was surprised to find out how many geocaches there are in the county.

“We made a day out of it the last time we were down here on Memorial Day and it was the first time we visited Lewis Emery Park,” he said. “We spent about half a day there looking for the caches and learning about the park’s history as a Civil War site, which was decent.”

Cathy Smalls first came to Hillsdale County in 2017 when she was on a mission to hike the North Country Trail as much as possible, and after completing a majority of Ohio’s trails, she crossed the state line and started where hiking trails begin near Waldron.

Smalls has often returned to hike the Lost Nations State Game area on day visits from her home near Dayton, Ohio.

“It’s one of my favorite sections of the trail,” Smalls said. “You really can tell the caretakers are keeping up with things along the paths.”

While local groups such as the Chief Baw Beese Chapter of the North Country Trail actively encourage group walking tours and invite hikers from out of town, there is no concerted effort by local government agencies to actively promote outdoor opportunities in Hillsdale County.

“They really should have a website or something with everything there is to do down here,” Jablonski said. “Right now it’s just word of mouth.”