If you have been following our centennial state parks trek, you probably have seen a lot of snow. And ice. And cold. So have we! So for our most recent trek, we went to an indoor park: the Outdoor Adventure Center in Detroit.
The Outdoor Adventure Center is a little bit of a misnomer because it’s actually inside. The state designed the center to give families a taste of Michigan’s great outdoors in the heart of Detroit.
It’s a neat way to pique people’s interest in the outdoors. That’s especially true for kids who have lived in the city their entire lives. If they’ve never been on an ATV or seen some of the wildlife that one might encounter in nature, it gives a good feel for what you might see and do around the state. Hopefully, it sparks a kid to ask their parents to take them camping or fishing.
One of the cool things about the Outdoor Adventure Center is they built it in the old Globe Building. From the late 1800s to early 1900s, the building was home to a few different manufacturing companies, including the Detroit Shipbuilding Company. Fun fact: Henry Ford worked for the company in his early days before he set out on his own.
The Michigan DNR did a good job modernizing the building while still leaving some of the original architecture visible. Plus, they have a display to show you what the building used to look like, what was manufactured there, and how it was vital to Michigan’s maritime history. As you walk around, some of the old beams, windows, and high ceiling are still visible.
The state structured the Outdoor Adventure Center to show off the vast variety of habitats, natural resources, landscapes and activities Michigan offers. Interactive displays and simulated activities draw kids in, including small campfires, campsites, wild animal habitats, duck hunting, snowmobile riding and more.
It’s definitely designed more for smaller kids to have fun and get them excited about the outdoors. But the center does have plenty of information to tease the adults. It might just make someone say, “Hey, we should take a trip up north this summer to go camping and hiking.”
As you walk through the building you encounter different sections: watersports, camping, sand dunes, mining, snowmobiling, biking, mighty forests, wildlife, conservation and more.
We wouldn’t say walking into the main section of the building takes your breath away, but it definitely makes you stop and look around. It is such a big building and the DNR did a lot of work to utilize all the space to bring the outdoors to life…including a huge waterfall. While most of the displays and exhibits are only as real as you can get trying to bring the outdoors indoors, you realize how much work they put into this building.
One of the first exhibits you come to is aquatics, including a small aquarium with fish borrowed from the Belle Isle Aquarium. They also have a display of two of the Great Lakes’ largest fish, the muskie and the sturgeon. We’ve known they were in the Great Lakes. But to see both fish displayed full size and realize they are almost as long as Jessi is tall was eye-opening. Plus, it was neat to be reminded about how the sturgeon have been around since the dinosaurs.
Another section is dedicated to watersports with a kayak simulator and a fishing simulator. Jessi went for a ride on the kayak and had fun “cruising” down the Detroit River, while Ari tried out salmon fishing.
Ari is not a fisherman, but he thought the fishing simulator was a lot more realistic than he expected. When the line goes out to simulate trying to reel in a fish, it takes a lot more strength than you or your little one might be prepared for. It was a lot of fun and we think it is a good taste for the kids (or adults!) that have not had a chance to experience fishing before.
When most people think of camping, an image of a tent or trailer comes to mind. But what if you don’t have either of those things and still want to get away? You can rent a yurt! A yurt is a newer option provided at many state parks and you can see one for yourself at the OAC.
GETTING CLOSER TO “NATURE”
One of the most unique features is a really large (fake) tree that takes up a good portion of the building to demonstrate how big Michigan’s mighty forests truly are. There’s a little slide that allows kids to climb up inside the tree to slide down, or they can keep climbing all the way up through the tree to reach the second level of the building. From there, they can take a suspension bridge across to yet another exhibit.
In addition to bringing activities inside, they’ve also brought the animal kingdom inside. This includes many taxidermy animals like white-tailed deer, bald eagle, black bear, coyote, elk, ducks, and turtles. They’ve also got different animal pelts and animal footprints on display to explain tracking and hunting. Scattered around the building you also can find animal habitats, such as an eagle nest and pond. There’s also a bear den and beaver lodge, both of which kids (and small adults) can climb into.
Resources and Conservation
The center tries to turn everything into a learning experience. Even the stairways have information on each of the steps going up. One staircase is dedicated to Michigan by the numbers, which talks about Michigan statistics. Another talks about the different types of animals, while the third shares information on water and fish. It gives kids something to do and they don’t realize they’re learning as they go.
In addition to the interactive exhibits, you also learn throughout the OAC how the Department of Natural Resources looks after the state’s resources. Whether that is helping people learn to compost, or taking care of beehives, or counting frogs — different displays teach you how to be better stewards of our environment.
One of the cooler things on display is a plane the state used for wildlife surveys and to fly over forests checking different things. You can even climb inside the plane and check it out. Another fun spot is learning about forest fire prevention and taking your picture with Smokey Bear.
A few of the interactive exhibits rely on technology and some of it didn’t work. In a couple of instances, it might have been user error. In others, the exhibit was clearly marked out of order. Given that there is typically only one station for each activity and they are getting a lot of use, it’s important that the DNR will need to step up its game and make sure they do the proper maintenance. When people go to the Outdoor Adventure Center everybody should get to experience everything in proper working order.
The technology-based activities we participated in included the fishing and kayaking simulations, a simulated ride on a snowmobile through snowy woods, a dove hunting video game, bird call identification, and animal spotting contest. They also have an ATV and bicycle simulation. Plus, there’s a video display where you’re an eagle flying over places in Michigan.
The only thing we were truly disappointed in was that the other video game that was out of order appeared to be titled “Extreme Squirrel.” We really want to know what that game was, and might have to take a trip back just to find out!
In addition to the regular exhibits, the OAC tries to offer a special activity each weekend. These might include learning about flowers or wildlife, family game day, archery, or farming. The day we were there, they were making maple syrup and turning it into taffy – boy was that good! Check their calendar for all the upcoming events. We think these special activities are a great way to keep bringing people back to OAC. Even if you’ve already been, you might go again to participate in the special events that are going on.
The OAC also offers birthday parties and space you can rent for meetings, weddings, corporate retreats or more.
WHEN YOU GO
The Center is conveniently located just north of Detroit’s downtown, right across the street from the William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor that we have blogged about previously. There is a fenced parking lot located right by the building where you can park to visit either park. Conveniently located at the intersection of the Dequindre Cut trail and Detroit Riverwalk, it’s easily accessible by walking or cycling, too. As Detroit continues to reinvent itself, the Outdoor Adventure Center is a nice addition. It helps showcase how the city is clearing out blight for redevelopment opportunities.
The Outdoor Adventure Center is definitely a family-friendly activity. It is more designed for little kids or those who haven’t had a chance to experience the wilderness. But there is a little bit of everything for everybody. On the cold Saturday we were there, we saw a lot of people visiting.
The Center is open Wednesday through Sunday and they do keep families in mind. Admission is $5 for adults, and $3 for kids ages 2-13 and senior citizens. Kids 2 and under are free. Complimentary lockers to store your coats is a nice service, especially for families. There’s also no food available, except a vending machine.
Overall, we recommend this park if you’re in the Detroit area and have little ones. The Outdoor Adventure Center is a good place to go for a fun family day!
We have plenty more adventures to come, so subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel. (We have a video about the Outdoor Adventure Center published there.) You can follow us on Instagram, our Facebook page, and Twitter. Plus, you can see our progress as we visit each park on this interactive Google Map. You also can keep track of our activities on social media with the hashtags #hikecampgo and #mistateparks100.