February 08, 2012 - By Joe St. Henry
Over the past 20 years, countless neighborhoods, schools and businesses have sprouted around Bald Mountain Recreation Area in Lake Orion.
Despite the development, new Park Supervisor Andrew Cole is glad the 4,500 acres of state land have maintained their natural beauty and remained a "gem" in the community.
In his new job, he is committed to introducing Bald Mountain to even more people.
"The population has grown so much out here now," he said. "I think educational opportunities focusing on our natural resources and promoting Bald Mountain will really flourish."
Cole's own outdoor education started early. His grandfather and mother "hooked" him on spending time outside when he was a youngster. The Flint native became an avid hunter and fisherman, regularly visiting his family's cottage and property in northern Michigan.
He turned this passion into a career, studying fisheries and wildlife biology at Michigan State University. Cole was a state park ranger during the summers and had aspirations of becoming either a wildlife biologist or conservation officer.
"I knew I wanted to work ouside everyday," he said. "I'm just not the type of person who can sit in a cubical and type."
Timing is everything and, when two rangers transferred from Seven Lakes State Park, Cole replaced one of them immediately after graduation in 2001.
He moved to Holly Recreation Area in 2002 and then to Dodge #4 State Park in Waterford in 2011, where he trained to become a park supervisor.
Cole transferred to Bald Mountain in January. He actually worked there earlier in his career at a deer check station during hunting season.
Upon his return, the park supervisor was surprised how much development had taken place along Kern Road.
"I remember there were only a couple of new homes built in the neighborhood near the cemetary," he said. "Now there are hundreds, plus a school."
The lack of snow this winter is hampering cross-country skiers, ice fishermen and other winter sports enthusiasts who visit Bald Mountain. The nice weather, however, will enable Cole to get a jump on becoming intimately familiar with the park.
This includes walking its 15 miles of trails and personally appraising the condition of every building and road on the property.
"This is a big area to cover," he said. "I still take a map when I'm driving through the area. There's a lot of twists and turns, especially in the north unit."
The park supervisor said Bald Mountain just got approved for a new dog park, one of only two found in the state park system.
His team also will continue to oversee the south, north and west units of the recreation area, including its cabins, as well as public access launches on Lake Orion, Squaw Lake and Lakeville Lake. There's also a swimming beach, picnic facilities, trails and gun range to maintain.
"There's something new everyday," Cole said. "That's why I love this job."
An emphasis on exposing more people to the outdoors will also take place under Cole's watch, he promised. The park supervisor noted there are 40 parks around the state that have an official Explorer Guide on staff that facilitates a range of educational opportunities. "Given the population in this area, I think Bald Mountain should have one, too," he said.
In addition, Cole wants to start a Recreation 101 program here, similar to those at other parks around the state. It features a series of free classes on subjects like kayaking, fishing, camping, orienteering and other outdoor pastimes.
"People just need to show up and we supply everything," the park supervisor said. "We'll even bait the hooks and take the fish off the line for first-time fisherman, if it helps someone build a passion for the outdoors."
Cole said state parks also have launched their own outreach programs. Bald Mountain started one last year, targeting boys and girls clubs, church groups and similar organizations in both the inner city and suburbs.
He also would like to establish closer ties with local school districts, not only to promote outdoor educational opportunities but also to find seasonal workers (18 or older). He said student field trips from nearby schools in Lake Orion would be welcome.
Last year, the Recreation Passport program was launched across the state to encourage more visitors to its parks.
The program was a success with 25 percent of persons renewing their vehicle license plates also signing up for the passport for an extra $10. This gives them access to 101 parks, harbors and trail systems across Michigan, including Bald Mountain which opened in 1944.
Cole said the Passport program provides the Michigan Department of Natural Resources with most of its funding (along with camping fees), and has plenty of room to grow.
"During last July 4 weekend, I was working at Dodge Park and for every car that had a Passport program sticker, ten knew nothing about it," he said. "We want to market it even more this year."
Cole hopes to have Bald Mountain Recreation Area fully staffed and ready for the summer season, including the dog park and other updates, by Memorial Day Weekend.
In 2011, 225,000 cars entered the park. The new supervisor hopes even more will vist this year to enjoy its natural beauty, wildlife, beach and other amenities.
"People who live in this area may take Bald Mountain for granted," he admitted. "But, if you like the outdoors, this is a great place to visit and its right in your backyard."