Times flies when you're exploring Detroit's outdoors! Now that we have officially crossed into Year 2, here's a quick recap of our favorite highlights from Expedition Detroit's inaugural year in the field - as well as glimpses into where we're heading with our platform.
"OK... we're live."
I'll never forget saying those words audibly, by myself, sitting on my living room couch. The moment occurred late on a Friday night - actually, it was probably Saturday morning by then - after reading and re-reading my first article for the 100th time that day. Our digital marketing and web design specialist had finally gone to bed after I had lit up her phone incessantly over the previous month. The branding was complete, design work wrapped up, initial concepts planned, and the site appeared somewhat user-friendly.
All that remained on my to-do list was click that one, terrifying button.
"Here we go..."
With that unceremonious action, a dream that had consumed far too many early morning coffee cups and dinnertime conversations instantaneously became a reality. Suddenly every aspect of my professional life became geared towards supporting this fledgling enterprise, a vision for creating the ultimate value incubator for the entirety of our region's outdoor industry. A one-stop shop for the best trails, experiences, retailers, events, causes, and more within an hour's drive of Downtown Detroit. A mission to fundamentally change the way that Detroit, the Great Lakes, and the rest of the world views our magnificent natural environment. And most importantly, an unquenchable desire to serve our outdoor community by advocating for the creation, expansion, and protection of our outdoor spaces.
To summarize, it was finally time to get to work - a ****-ton of work - with no guarantee of how the Detroit region's outdoor community would react to our arrival.
Well, one year later, we're ecstatic to announce that we have found our place amidst Detroit's thriving, exciting, diverse, and overwhelmingly-welcoming community. This past year has brought forth more ground-breaking experiences, dynamic partnerships, and once-in-a-lifetime chances than we could have ever hoped for. Yes, this year has also featured a plethora of mistakes made and lessons learned. However, we as a team couldn't be more excited for the breadth of opportunities that are already starting to align for Year 2 and beyond. Truly, we still feel like we're just getting started.
Before moving full steam ahead into this next year of our operations, we wanted to briefly pause and look back on our favorite highlights from this past year. While we would never bother you with a short novel on our brief history, we wanted to share our most popular articles and memorable adventures from this past year. Long-time readers, we hope that you enjoy this trek down memory lane. Recent converts, hopefully this provides a glimpse into where we've been and the momentum that we're carrying into our next phase of expeditions.
Here's a quick recap of our favorite highlights from Expedition Detroit's Inaugural Year:
TOP READS: OUR 3 MOST POPULAR ARTICLES
Since our genesis, the "Expedition Detroit Blog" has represented our go-to resource for engaging with our community. From highlighting specific trails and trail towns to reviewing top-industry gear and guides, we have aimed to create a comprehensive library for our community to learn, experience, and leave a positive impact on our outdoor ecosystem. This mission has matured and grown through the growth of our readership and the community's consistent feedback. Personally, my favorite highlights of this year have consisted almost exclusively of instances where community members have shared how a particular article inspired them or benefitted their experience outdoors.
That being said, not all articles are created equal...and these three ranked far above the rest in popularity with our readers.
1. TRAIL TOWN SPOTLIGHT: AMHERSTBURG, ONTARIO
Date Published: March 20, 2023
Oh, Canada! We had no idea what to expect last winter when we crossed the Ambassador Bridge into Ontario. Well, I knew at the time that the historic town of Amherstburg had incredible odds of providing a gold mine for world-class outdoor, historical, and cultural experiences. The trail pup and I spent a full day exploring Holiday Beach Conservation Area, downtown Amherstburg, and the Windsor Riverfront. We were conducting field research for several articles at the time, including a prospective #TrailTuesday on Holiday Beach, Part II of our Underground Railroad series, and a Trail Town Spotlight on Amherstburg.
In full transparency, when we originally posted each of those articles, we didn't see a lot of traction at first. "No worries," I remember thinking when I reviewed the metrics, "still a phenomenal experience." Then, when I was on a flight home from a ski trip, I received push notification that our web traffic was soaring. I checked Expedition Detroit's metrics.
Friends, Amherstburg SHOWED UP for their Trail Town Spotlight..! The article was broadly shared across Southwestern Ontario, as well as within Michigan and the greater Great Lakes region. Looking ahead, we're really excited to provide this community with more Ontario content mixed in with our Michigan-centric articles. After all, the Detroit Region's outdoors truly unite a dynamic, international community of adventure enthusiasts. It's our honor to connect with both likeminded outdoorists hailing from sides of the border.
2. TRAIL TOWN SPOTLIGHT: NORTHVILLE, MICHIGAN
Date Published: November 29, 2022
Our second published "Trail Town Spotlight" started simply as a love letter to my hometown of Northville, Michigan. Located in the heart of the Detroit region, I always thought that Northville represented a "hiding in plain sight" outdoor recreational marvel. Conveniently caught in the crosshairs between Maybury State Park and Hines Drive, my years spent living in Northville provided a year-round opportunity to pursue my favorite outdoor pursuits.
From mountain biking and trail running in the summer to snowshoeing and creative backcountry skiing in the winter, Northville blessed me and my community with world-class parks and trails. In this "Spotlight," my simple goal was to give back via recognizing the recreational value that so many unrecognized heroes had provided to their neighbors for generations.
As confirmed by our metrics, I was far from representing the only outdoor enthusiast that held these sentiments. Our "Trail Town Spotlight" feature on Northville received broad readership throughout Metro Detroit and beyond, including several shares within prominent Northville community online forums. Several long time friends actually read the article without even realizing that I wrote it, which I was personally very proud of. We always intended for Expedition Detroit to be community-focused, highlighting the values of our region's destinations and trails - not the authors writing about them. I will happily live my professional life incognito as long as our outdoor ecosystem continues receiving the praise and recognition that it is undeniably owed.
3. GUIDE TO EXPERIENCING THE BIG FOUR SKI RESORTS NEAR DETROIT
Date Published: December 13, 2022
Rounding out the podium for Year 1 was one of our first "guide articles" to a multi-destination experience: the "Guide to Experiencing the Big Four Resorts near Detroit." Truth be told, we didn't know if anyone had ever referred to Mt. Brighton, Alpine Valley, Mt. Holly, and Pine Knob as the "Big Four" before. We took a bit of a chance on that, but the gamble appeared to pay off with the broad-receptivity that our guide received. Better yet, each of the Big Four re-posted our article, which absolutely led to its boost in readership.
While we plan on writing a "2023 update" to our Big Four guide, we're also planning on further diving into winter content specifically focused on new experiences at each of the resorts next season. No spoilers will be dropped here, but let's just say we're pretty stoked for the first snowflakes to start falling next winter.
IN THE FIELD: OUR 3 MOST MEMORABLE ADVENTURES
When the "Expedition Detroit Concept" first started burrowing into my mind in the early months of 2022, one particular daydream absolutely captivated me and propelled the idea closer to becoming a reality. It went something like this:
Imagine being able to wake up every day with the goal of experiencing, discovering, or creating something new and exciting in Detroit's outdoors.
Maybe I had seen one too many National Geographic documentaries featuring TV personalities flying to all corners of the world to "discover" something novel and exotic about a well-known destination, but I dreamed about somewhat replicating the model. Except - and this is key - such expeditions would occur here. In a place that hardly anyone appeared to regard as an outdoor destination. Far off the radar of the often elitist recreational writers of publications like National Geographic and Outside Magazine. A region ripe for rediscovery.
With that mindset solidly locked in, we started researching the year-round opportunities available to us. Our initial hypothesis turned about to be dead one: the Detroit region is filled to the brim with world-class, daring, and breathtaking outdoor adventures. We barely scratched the surface this year with our backpacking, backcountry skiing, and multi-destination hiking pursuits... Plenty of adventures remain primed and chambered for Year 2, but here were our favorite ones from our inaugural year.
1. BACKPACKING THE WATERLOO-PINCKNEY TRAIL
Dates Accomplished: April 20 - 22, 2023
If we were forced to recommend only one multi-day experience for an experienced outdoor enthusiast visiting the Detroit region, we would recommend thru-hiking the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail without a second thought. As of the publication date of this article, the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail without a doubt the Metro Detroit's most prestigious, challenging, and rewarding trail. We fell in love with the dream of thru-hiking the trail as soon as it crossed our radar last fall, added it to our "New Year's Resolutions" in January, and jumped at the opportunity to complete the feat as soon as spring had sprung and campgrounds opened for backpackers.
Completing the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail in early spring was a near-religious experience for me. The solitude of the empty trails, the new life emerging from the earth, and the inherent physical and psychological challenges of solo backpacking roughly 40 miles provided the perfect initiation experience for Expedition Detroit's spring and summer content. The tone was set to keep searching for and experiencing that types of trails and pursuits that appealed to both novice and experienced recreationists alike. I owe that drive to my miles on the W-P, and I strongly encourage you to replicate that experience.
2. BACKPACKING THE CHIEF PONTIAC TRAIL
Dates Accomplished: July 7-8, 2023
In another moment of transparency, we did not plan to complete more than one backpacking adventure in our inaugural year. Completing the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail alone was enough of an expedition to constitute the crowning achievement of a full recreational year. However, after completing the W-P, our site-wide metrics for backpacking and hiking-related content skyrocketed between April and early July. Even though our articles on the W-P didn't crack the "Top 3" listed above, our three-part series on the trail remains our most-read series since their original publication.
We inadvertently seemed to have ignited a long-stifled desire for more backpacking content in the Detroit region. A fire that we were more than happy to continue stoking via setting out on another backpacking adventure: completing the half-century old Chief Pontiac Trail.
While the W-P constitutes a well-maintained and well-trodden thru-hike, completing the CPT felt more like a true expedition. An often difficult, haphazardly maintained, and navigationally-chaotic expedition. One where I missed a trail marker within the first mile and ended up adding close to 5 miles to my overall thru-hike. Oh yeah, and also one of the worst campground experiences of my outdoor career.
Here's the thing about brutal outdoor experiences though: they're almost always the most memorable. I have never enjoyed a backpacking story that starts and ends with "Everything was perfect." Screw that. I want to hear about how you survived a near-zero degree night in the desert. Or when you were stranded on an island in Alaska. Or how you managed to keep trekking through buckets of rain in the Tetons.
Solo hiking the CPT provided roughly 20 miles of humility, adventure, mosquitos, thrilling views, highway hiking, blissful solitude, midnight arrivals, obnoxious campgrounds, and rain. Lots of rain. But when I look back on Summer 2023 - and Expedition Detroit's first year - the CPT will always stand out as a reminder to keep going no matter how incredible or bleak the conditions may appear. In the end, the journey will always be worth the effort.
3. COMPLETING THE METROPARKS TRAIL CHALLENGE
Dates Accomplished: August 5-17, 2022
The final adventure that we completed during Year 1 was, admittedly, an extended impulse decision. We spent most of Expedition Detroit's first year exploring the Michigan State Parks and Recreation Areas surrounding the western edge of the Detroit region, largely due to our partnerships with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. In full transparency, that apparent preference left us feeling like we were ignoring some of the other world-class outdoor destinations in our vicinity - especially the immaculate Huron-Clinton Metroparks that dot the outer rim of the Detroit region. The joys of operating with a small (but growing!) team.
The Metroparks' 2023 Trail Challenge first crossed our radar back in early May. We were researching the "Best Summer Challenges" to complete over the warmest months ahead, and the concept of hiking particular "Challenge Trails" throughout the entirety of the Metroparks system absolutely qualified for a fun-yet-arduous endeavor. We also hoped that it would provide us with the incentive to finally get our boots on the ground in each Metropark.
Well, in classic Expedition Detroit fashion, we waited until summer's final fleeting days to tackle the challenge. We actually raised the stakes by setting a rigid timeline for us: 13 trails in 13 days. This did require a few multi-Metropark days in order to complete due to poor time management by yours truly, but we successfully completed the Trails Challenge within our arbitrary deadline. In fact, visiting all of the Metroparks in a vacuum like that provided a beautiful panoramic perspective of the diversity of each of the parks.
Do we recommend only visiting the Metroparks in such a hectic manner? No. Absolutely not. But, if you'd also like to replicate the "Expedition Detroit method" of completing the Trails Challenge, then we do highly recommend completing the feat for gaining that unique perspective on our Metroparks.
We'd like to close this highlights article out by thank you again for being a member of our community. Our highest goal truly is to provide you with content that inspires your adventures, outfits your expeditions, and advocates for preserving your favorite wild places.
We are always one email or call away from discovering how we can best design this platform for your interests, so please don't hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and (734) 821-6416.