Fall Color Tours
Hiking & Backpacking
Skiing, Snowboarding & Tubing
Nestled among 80 lakes, rivers and streams, with a unique location on the 45th parallel, Otsego County offers outdoor recreation for vacationers and year-round residents alike.
Boasting nearly 100 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, downhill and cross-country skiing, year-round fishing, hiking, a limestone surfaced bike trail, elk viewing and numerous parks, Otsego County is an ideal vacation destination during all four seasons.
An average of 150 inches of snowfall each year and unspoiled wilderness also make the Gaylord area — the heart of Northern Michigan — a multi-seasonal playground for a variety of family recreational opportunities.
To contact the Gaylord Area Convention & Tourism Bureau, call 732-6333. Or call the Gaylord Information Center at 732-4000 or 800-345-8621. Also an excellent source for area recreation information is the Department of Natural Resources, 732-3541.
Plenty of opportunities exist for campers in Otsego County, whether it’s a spot to roll out a sleeping bag under the stars, or a place to pitch a tent and have a campfire.
• Beaver Creek Resort, located at 5004 W. Otsego Lake Drive, just five miles southwest of downtown Gaylord, offers a clubhouse with an indoor pool, Jacuzzi and sauna, waterslide, miniature golf course, log cabins and 63 RV campsites; reservations required; 732-2459.
• Big Bear Lake State Forest Campground, located at Bear Lake Drive in Vienna Corners, offers 30 campsites. No reservations required; 732-3541.
• Elk Hill Trail Camp is 14.5 miles east of Vanderbilt via Sturgeon Valley Road and Twin Lakes Road in the Pigeon River Country State Forest. There are 10 campsites located on the north-south spur of the Shore-to-Shore Horseback Trail, available on a first-come, first-served basis; plus fishing and hiking; 983-4101.
• Gaylord KOA, located at 5101 Campfires Parkway in Michaywé, Gaylord, offers 100 reservation-required campsites nestled in 70 acres of birch, aspen and pine; 939-8723.
• Headwaters Camping and Cabins is located at 11687 Headwaters Court in Waters and offers 89 sites and five cabin rentals. Facilities include showers, electricity, dump, picnic area and fishing; 705-2066.
• Johnson’s Crossing State Forest Trail Camp near Johannesburg is designed for equestrian campers, but all are welcome. For group reservations, call 989-983-4101.
• The Otsego County Park has 80 sites available to campers on 27 acres. Minimum reservations of two nights are required; maximum stay is 15 nights. Call 731-6448 for reservations.
• The Otsego Lake State Park has 155 sites and one mini-cabin for use on 62 acres. Camping fees require a motor vehicle permit, which can be used at any Michigan state park. For reservations, call 800-44-PARKS; or register online at www.michigan.gov/dnr.
• Pickerel Lake State Forest Campground, 10 miles east of Vanderbilt via Sturgeon Valley Road and Pickerel Lake Road in the Pigeon River Country State Forest. There are 41 rustic campsites available. Offers swimming, fishing, boating and hiking on trails. An old Civilian Conservation Corps historic site is nearby; 983-4101.
• Pigeon Bridge State Forest Campground, 10 miles east of Vanderbilt via Sturgeon Valley Road in the Pigeon River Country State Forest. Ten rustic campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis; fishing and hiking are offered; 983-4101.
• Pigeon River Campground, 14 miles east of Vanderbilt via Sturgeon Valley Road and Twin Lakes Road in the Pigeon River Country State Forest. Features 19 rustic campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis; plus fishing and hiking; 983-4101.
• Pigeon River Country State Forest, about 13 miles east of Vanderbilt on Twin Lakes Road, forest headquarters (visitor’s information) is located at 9966 Twin Lakes Road, Vanderbilt. More than 105,000 acres; seven rustic campgrounds; boat access; trout fishing in the Pigeon, Sturgeon and Black rivers; swimming areas; 60 miles of designated hiking and backpacking trails; 27 miles of horse trails and one trail camp; picnic areas; and elk-herd viewing areas. Includes the Green Timbers special use area of 6,300 acres with five miles of Sturgeon River frontage, which is closed to all motor vehicles to provide prime wildlife habitat and quiet recreation.
• Round Lake State Forest Campground, 14 miles southeast of Vanderbilt via Sturgeon Valley Road and Round Lake Road in the Pigeon River Country State Forest. Ten campsites are offered on a first-come, first-served basis; fishing and hiking are available; 983-4101.
• Town Corner Lake State Forest Campground has 12 secluded sites, plus facilities for boating, swimming, fishing, mountain biking and hiking. For details, contact the DNR district headquarters at 732-3541.
Michigan’s native elk population disappeared around 1875, but rebounded after seven elk were released near Wolverine in 1918. The Pigeon River Country State Forest, about 13 miles east of Vanderbilt on Sturgeon Valley Road, is the heart of Michigan’s elk range, which is home to an estimated 1,000 animals.
The best time for viewing elk is early morning and late evening, especially in the spring (April 15-May 15) and fall (Sept. 10-Oct. 10). Elk-viewing areas have been established where the ground has been seeded with rye, alfalfa, buckwheat and clover to draw the elk, deer and turkeys into open areas.
Elk have been sighted on Fontinalis Road, about three miles north of Sturgeon Valley Road near the Cheboygan County line where a small parking area and a field have been cleared by the DNR; at an elk-viewing area (with DNR signs indicating the location) on East Sturgeon Valley Road, about eight miles east of Vanderbilt; and about 0.4 miles north of the intersection of Osmun Road and Clark Bridge Road in the Pigeon River Country State Forest. Chances of seeing elk are increased by remaining at or near designated parking areas.
Detailed maps of various other elk-viewing sites are available at the DNR District Office, 1732 M-32 West, Gaylord; 732-3541.
In Gaylord, the elk/deer enclosure off Grandview Boulevard and Elkview behind Kmart is a popular draw, enabling people to get an up-close look at the animals.
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Fall Color Tours
The rolling countryside of Otsego County is ablaze with color during Mother Nature’s autumn color extravaganza. The area usually hits its peak of color in early to mid-October. Hikers, motorists, horseback riders and mountain bikers travel along many picturesque scenic pathways in the area. The Gaylord Information Center at 125 S. Otsego Ave., Gaylord, 732-4000, can provide various maps and directions for many popular routes.
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Anglers can find great fishing across Otsego County year-round. The county’s largest water body, Otsego Lake, receives regular DNR stockings of walleye, providing for a popular fishery during summer and winter months. Otsego Lake is also home to sturgeon, which can be legally sought by tag holders as a sport fish from mid-July through mid-March. Tags are available at the DNR field office, M-32 West, Gaylord, or at any fishing license dealer.
Other sought after species such as northern pike, perch, largemouth and smallmouth bass, panfish and the occasional muskellunge can be found in Otsego Lake and across the rest of the county.
Otsego County is home to significant portions of the state’s best-known trout rivers: Black River, AuSable River, Pigeon River, Sturgeon River and Manistee River. Also, many area lakes are stocked with rainbow trout and splake (a brook trout/lake trout hybrid).
For more information on seasons, regulations and current license fees, pick up a guide at the DNR Operations Center office, 1732 M-32 West , Gaylord, 732-3541; or at license dealers around the county.
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The Gaylord Golf Mecca and the greens of 21 courses continue to beckon golfers of all playing levels to their links.
In 1987, a group of golf courses in the Gaylord area joined forces to increase their marketing power and promote the Gaylord area as a premier golf destination. That concept — the Gaylord Golf Mecca — has succeeded in becoming one of the largest cooperative golf organizations in Michigan.
Boasting 17 championship courses, five resort destinations, 20 hotel properties and numerous awards from golf magazines and organizations, the Gaylord Golf Mecca provides plenty of great quality golf to match every style of play. For further details, call the Gaylord Information Center at 732-4000.
Hiking & Backpacking
Trails abound in Otsego County affording hikers and backpackers of every skill and age level an opportunity to see, hear, smell, touch and even taste nature in all its beauty. The area is lush with pathways for hiking enthusiasts, and all are free to use with no trail passes required.
Several marked trails exist in the state forest areas of the county as well as within the city limits:
• Aspen Park, 1.8 miles of paved trails in mostly wooded and some open areas; beaver pond rests along the trail, as well as elk and deer viewing in the elk park; off Commerce Boulevard in Gaylord.
• Shingle Mill Pathway, 14 miles of flat to very hilly terrain; shorter loops also available; in Pigeon River Country State Forest.
• High Country Pathway, 80-plus miles of flat to very hilly terrain; in Pigeon River Country State Forest.
• Pine Baron Pathway, about eight miles, flat terrain; shorter loops available; on Lone Pine Road off Old Alba Road.
• Big Bear Lake Pathway, two-plus miles of flat to rolling terrain; in southeast Otsego County on Little Bear Lake Road off of Meridian Line Road.
• Pickerel Lake Pathway, two miles of gently rolling terrain; in Pigeon River Country State Forest.
• Louis M. Groen Nature Preserve, hiking on a variety of trails of varying lengths. Maintained by Otsego County Parks and Recreation; near Johannesburg on Gingell Road.
There are also many marked and paved trails in the parks at Otsego Lake and Aspen Park. Detailed maps are available at the DNR District Office, 1732 M-32 West, Gaylord, 732-3541, or at the Gaylord Information Center, 125 S. Otsego Ave., Gaylord, 732-4000.
Riders on horseback are welcome on two-tracks, forest roads or non-hiking trails.
• The Pigeon River Country State Forest offers horse trails and one trail camp.
• Also, 54 miles of trails run through Otsego County countryside as part of the Northern Spur of the Michigan Shore-to-Shore riding and hiking trail.
The following stable offers guided trail rides, featuring the best of Northern Michigan landscape:
• Liberty Valley Ranch, 4301 Hayes Tower Road, Gaylord; 731-0149
Further information is available at the Gaylord Information Center, 732-4000.
Otsego County is home to a wide variety of wildlife, and hunters often pursue deer, bear, turkeys and numerous small game species. Licenses, as well as specific information on season dates, limits and rules are available from the DNR at its district office at 1732 M-32 West, Gaylord; 732-3541.
The Northland Sportsmen’s Club near Gaylord has a members-only range with covered firing line and offers skeet, trap and five-stand shotgun shooting, as well as indoor pistol shooting, for members and nonmembers throughout the week and all year long. The club invites deer hunters to its range during the week leading up to rifle deer season for its annual sight-in. Range officials will assist shooters in sighting their guns. The club is located at 1542 Old Alba Road (corner of Old Alba and West Otsego Lake Drive). Visit www.northlandsportsmensclub.org.
The 118,000-acre Pigeon River Country State Forest is the most contiguous piece of state-owned public land in the Lower Peninsula and is a popular destination for hunters of all sorts of game. It is also home to Michigan’s wild elk herd of about 1,000 animals, and hunting seasons every fall and winter lead to the harvest of about 300 animals annually.
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Bicycling enthusiasts — novices or veterans — can experience all that is Northern Michigan along one of the many trails suited for mountain biking in Otsego County.
Some of the many trails worth exploring are:
• Gaylord to Cheboygan Rails-to-Trails, a distance of 62 miles, accessible in Gaylord from Fairview Road near the soccer complex. Portions of the trail are constantly being improved for ease of use. For more Rails-to-Trails information go to: www.trailscouncil.org.
• Pine Baron Pathway, situated in the Mackinaw State Forest and only six miles from the heart of Gaylord. To reach it, take Otsego Lake Drive west to Old Alba Road, continue westbound to Lone Pine Road, then northbound to the trailhead. This system of gently rolling to flat terrain has four short loops, which average two miles each.
• High Country Pathway with detailed guides available through the Pigeon River Country Forest’s Visitor Center, P.O. Box 122, Gaylord, MI 49734. The guidebook includes detailed maps, descriptions of trees and points of interest and also includes information about the campgrounds.
• Shingle Mill Pathway, 10 miles east of Vanderbilt on Sturgeon Valley Road in the Pigeon River Country State Forest. This pathway offers six-, 10- and 11-mile loops on rolling to hilly terrain.
Maps showing your location are posted at each intersection along the trail; maps also are available at the Forest Visitor’s Center, 983-4101, and at the DNR office on M-32 just west of Gaylord, 732-3541
• Aspen Park Pathway, a 1.7-mile lighted trail system located inside the Gaylord’s mostly forested 100-acre Aspen Park just east of South Otsego Avenue at the end of Commerce Boulevard. There are also a great deal of unpaved trails, making it a perfect location for the more daring mountain biker. One path along the paved trail winds past Gaylord’s fenced elk herd, while a path along the unpaved trail can take an explorer to a small pond. Map kiosks along the trails provide adventurers with a guide to their scenic travels.
• Louis M. Groen Nature Preserve, mountain biking on a variety of trails of varying lengths. Maintained by Otsego County Parks and Recreation; near Johannesburg on Gingell Road.
For those who enjoy mountain biking, the North Chapter of the Michigan Mountain Bike Association holds the Michigan Bike Festival in September at Hanson Hills Recreation Area in Grayling. For more information on the Michigan Mountain Bike Association, visit www.mmba.org.
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In May, the morel mushroom brings flocks of tourists to Northern Michigan forests each year. Black morels appear in early May and are followed by the rarer white morels in mid- to late May. Morels grow best in warm, wet conditions.
They may be found near stumps of dead elms, oak trees, beech-maple forests and old orchards. Mushroom hunters are advised to learn the characteristics of true (nonpoisonous) and false (poisonous) morels.
Pickers are reminded to respect private property. Any questions can be directed to the DNR at 732-3541.
The MSU Extension office has a brochure available to help identify morels. Call 731-0272 for more information.
On May 11, Lewiston will again host its Morel Mushroom Festival with arts and crafts. www.lewistonchamber.com
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Off-Road & All-Terrain Vehicle Trails
Otsego County and the surrounding area hold several off-road (ORV) and all-terrain (ATV) vehicle trails open to licensed operators.
Start at the trailhead on Old State and Turtle Lake roads for Big Bear Trail, a 14.5-mile loop, and the Crapo Creek Trail, a 17.5-mile loop. Both trails are for ORVs less than 50 inches wide (most ATVs and trail bikes).
Also meandering around and west of Crapo Creek Trail is a route for ORVs of all sizes. Just north of the Otsego County line is the Tomahawk Trail (for ORVs less than 50 inches wide); the Tomahawk A, B and C trails are 36.8-, 17- and 40-mile loops, respectively. Included in the trail system are a few routes for ORVs of all sizes. Sections of the Michigan Cross Country Cycle Trail run through the area.
Other trails in counties neighboring Otsego include the Frederic Trail (Crawford County), Kalkaska Trail (Kalkaska, Antrim and Crawford counties), Atlanta Trail (Montmorency County), Red Bridge and Bummer’s Roost trails (Presque Isle and Cheboygan counties), and Hunt Creek Loop and Mio Trail (Montmorency and Oscoda counties).
An Otsego County ORV ordinance now allows ORV operators to ride on a majority of its county-maintained roads. The complete ordinance and ORV route maps may be viewed at the county Web site by visiting www.otsegocountymi.gov.
For specific maps and licensing requirements, contact the DNR at 1732 M-32 West in Gaylord; call 732-3541; or visit www.mi.gov/dnr.
The headwaters of the fastest river in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula start right here in Otsego County. Not “whitewater,” but the Sturgeon River is exciting and challenging with its quick current, numerous sharp turns and narrow passages. The crystal-clear spring-fed water has an average depth of 3 feet and winds its way through beautiful state forest. You can canoe, kayak, raft or tube on different sections of the river — something to please every age, skill and adventure level!
The following outfitter offers self-guided canoe, kayak, raft or tube trips spring through fall, and even guided raft trips in the winter. They also shuttle private equipment and can provide current river conditions:
• Big Bear Adventures, 4271 S. Straits Highway, Indian River; 231-238-8181.
• Otsego County Community Center — 315 S. Center Ave., 732-6521. Hours vary. The center is often reserved for various activities, such as sports leagues. Patrons should call ahead or visit, www.otsegocountyparksrec.com, to determine if it is available.
Indoor activities include regulation basketball (six baskets), ping-pong, pool, bumper pool, hockey, tennis, volleyball, two small meeting rooms, television and study room and foosball tables.
Outdoors are two basketball, two tennis, two shuffleboard, two volleyball courts and four new, regulation-size horseshoe courts, as well as picnic tables and a small playground.
• Otsego County Sportsplex — The county’s $4.5-million Sportsplex opened in March 1996 and is located at 1250 Gornick Ave. off South Wisconsin Avenue, 731-3546. The building is generally open all week, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
Facilities include an NHL-sized indoor ice and hockey arena; a regulation-sized, six-lane lap pool, 3 1/2 feet to 12 feet deep; and a leisure wading pool, zero-depth sloping to 3 feet deep, with Jacuzzi jets at one end. A 25-foot water slide is also included. There are also activity rooms that host fitness and dance classes and pickleball.
The pool, ice arena and activity rooms are available for rental. During daylight hours, the facility’s Energy Outlet Park and outdoor fitness and playground area is open.
A schedule of the public ice and pool sessions, hockey leagues, and skating and swimming lessons, together with pricing information, is available at the Sportsplex and online at www.ocsportsplex.com.
• Libke Fields on VanTyle Road, just west of the Gaylord Regional Airport — a multipurpose area that hosts softball, flag football and soccer, when not reserved. Call 732-6521 for reservations.
• Aspen Park, Commerce Boulevard east of South Otsego Avenue — 100 acres of fields and forests; includes tennis courts, paved hiking trails, biking trails and a pop vending machine. Lighted and groomed cross-country ski trails are available.
• George Doumas Memorial Park, corner of South Maple and Fourth streets in Gaylord — picnic areas and gazebo, grills, playground and restrooms.
• Freel Memorial Park, at East Huron Street and North Oak Avenue in Gaylord — picnic shelter, grills, playground and restrooms
• Hale Park, South Otsego Avenue and West Second Street — picnic pavilion and landscaping.
• Frank Wilkinson Memorial (Irontone Springs) Roadside Park, off Old 27 North, between Vanderbilt and Gaylord — covered picnic area, grills and natural spring drinking fountain. Call 732-6521 for reservations
• Ramp park on Wisconsin Avenue — features ramps for in-line skaters, skateboarders and BMX bikes; picnic tables, too
• Wah Wah Soo County Park, on the northeast side of Otsego Lake, off Old 27 South — grills and picnicking with a buoyed swim area
• Gaylord Discovery Center, 931 S. Otsego Ave., Gaylord, activities designed to foster creativity and social behavior in children. For hours of operation, visit www.gaylorddiscoverycenter.com or call 748-4050.
Skiing, snowboarding, tubing
With snowfall averaging 150 inches a year in the Gaylord area, skiing — both downhill and cross-country — is a main attraction.
• Aspen Park, a 100-acre park east of South Otsego Avenue on Commerce Boulevard in Gaylord, offers a 1.7-mile trail system.
• Buttles Road Pathway, four miles north of Lewiston, offers a 10k trail for cross-country skiing.
• Forbush Corner, just off I-75, near Frederic, features 37k of cross-country trails.
• Garland Resort, south of Lewiston on County Road 489, features 40k of groomed cross-country ski trails.
• Hartwick Pines State Park, northeast of Grayling on M-93 (Hartwick Pines Road), offers three trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing: 12k, 8k and 4.9k, with guided tours throughout the season
• Lakes of the North, 13 miles west of Gaylord, has 20k of trails for cross-country skiers.
• Louis M. Groen Nature Preserve, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on a variety of trails. Maintained by Otsego County Parks and Recreation; near Johannesburg on Gingell Road.
• Michaywé, located six miles southeast of Gaylord, off Charles Brink Road, has 20k of cross-country ski trails.
• Springbrook Pathway on Chandler Road, 13 miles northwest of Gaylord, offers three loops of cross-country skiing on 10k of trails.
• The Pine Baron Pathway, via Old Alba Road and Lone Pine Road, is an easy 14K cross-country ski trail groomed by the DNR.
• The Shingle Mill Pathway is an ungroomed, but popular, cross-country ski trail in the Pigeon River Country State Forest. It is located 10 minutes east of Vanderbilt on Sturgeon Valley Road and has loops of 1.25, 6, 10 and 11 miles. For maps, stop by the DNR District Office at 1732 M-32 West in Gaylord, or call 732-3541.
• Treetops Resort, off Wilkinson Road, offers 23 downhill runs, a half-pipe snowboard run and tubing runs. Call 888-TREETOPS.
• Warner Creek Pathway is located on M-32, three miles west of Elmira; one loop of cross-country skiing on an 8k trail.
• Wildwood Hills Pathway, 22 miles north of Gaylord on Wildwood Road, off Old 27, offers 16k of cross-country skiing on hilly trails.
Over the years, Gaylord has earned the title of snowmobile mecca.
The North Branch Trail begins at Mama Leone’s Restaurant, 2583 S. Otsego Ave., in Gaylord and links up to a network of trails in Northern Michigan such as the Blue Bear Trail, the Jordan Valley Trail, the Roll Trail and the Lovells Trail. The system offers opportunities for long distance or daily loops.
A staging area behind Big Boy, 1352 W. Main St., in Gaylord has parking available for 30 vehicles.
The Gaylord Area Snowmobile Trails Council grooms about 90 miles of trail in all directions from Gaylord. Those trails funnel into neighboring Antrim, Cheboygan, Montmorency and Crawford counties.
The DNR District Office, 1732 M-32 West, Gaylord; 732-3541, has detailed trip planning maps. Maps are also available at the Gaylord Information Center, 125 S. Otsego, Gaylord; 732-4000.
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Otsego County is dotted with nearly 100 pristine lakes — most of them small and shallow, but many of the larger lakes are ringed with summer cottages, undisturbed marshland and wooded scenery.
Located only a short distance from the shops and streets of downtown Gaylord is Otsego Lake. The county’s largest and most popular lake, it’s enjoyed by visitors and local residents alike. Nearly five miles in length and about one mile across at its widest point, Otsego Lake has the added attractions of a concrete boat ramp for day use at the Otsego Lake County Park and two major shoreline campground parks: Otsego Lake State Park, 732-5485, and Otsego Lake County Park, 731-6448.
For visitors interested in fishing and boating, gravel ramps suitable for small- and medium-size boats are available on Big, Bradford, Big Bass, Big Bear, Emerald and Heart Lakes. For recreational users, there are ramps for canoes and car-top boats on Dixon, Manuka, Lake 27, Opal, Otsego, Pickerel, Round, Marjory and West Twin Lakes. More information can be found at www.mcgi.state.mi.us/mrbis/
Otsego County’s beaches are perfect locations to beat the heat. With literally miles of public waters for swimmers and boaters to cool off in, Otsego County can keep the fun going as the temperatures rise.
• Big Bear Lake — off Meridian Line Road
• Big Lake — off Big Lake Road
• Lake 27 — off West Martin Lake Road
• Otsego Lake County Park — off West Otsego Lake Drive
• Otsego Lake State Park — off Old 27 South
• Thumb Lake — off Thumb Lake Road in Vanderbilt
• Wah-Wah-Soo — off Old 27 South on Otsego Lake
• Hanson Hills Recreation Area, 7601 Old Lake Road in Grayling has disc golf and mountain biking during the summer and downhill and cross-country skiing in the winter. Hanson Hills also has a number of educational opportunities for children with courses on skiing, archery, cheerleading and more. For information, contact Grayling Recreation Authority at 888-876-2196.
• Hartwick Pines State Park, off exit 259, north of Grayling is home to 9,672 acres of state forest land. Park features include a Visitor Center complete with a logging museum, seven miles of hiking trails, 15 miles of cross-country skiing trails, 100 modern campsites and opportunities for hunting, fishing and boating.
• Grass River Natural Area, located off the Alden Highway between Alden and Bellaire, has more than 1,443 acres of protected wetlands and uplands, offering hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing opportunities traversing more than seven miles of trails and boardwalks in Antrim County.
During the spring, summer and fall months, Grass River holds more than 80 classes and events for children and adults. Visit www.grassriver.org starting in March or call 231-533-8314.