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#TrailTuesday: The Lloyd A. Stage Nature Center's Hiking Loops in Troy

Welcome back to our #TrailTuesday Series! Nestled in the heart of Troy, Michigan, this edition explores the pines, meadows, and marshes of the Lloyd A. Stage Nature Center's Blackbird, Fox, and Sugar Maple Loops! Join us as we rediscover this suburban oasis of wilderness that has hosted post-holiday hikes - and community activism - for generations.

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December 26th, 2023. "Boxing Day," as today is more commonly referred to throughout the English-speaking world. But for us in the Detroit Region, a better denomination would be "Recovery Day."

And aren't we all owed a formal recovery day after the events of this week..?

Beyond the conclusion of the Hanukkah and Christmas holidays - including all of the family and friends gatherings that accompany them - Detroiters were treated to a special gift this year. In case you've been off-grid since Christmas Eve, the Detroit Lions won their first NFC North Division Championship in franchise history, also their first divisional title in 30 years. This platform is geared towards Detroit's outdoor recreational arena, but even so we weren't going to miss watching the Lions take care of business and finally take the North.

The cumulative effect of those celebrations takes us to today: an overcast, rainy, sluggish, and likely burnt-out Tuesday. Trust us, we absolutely get the natural inclination to spend your day-off - and possibly your week-off - horizontal on the couch, waiting for a spirit of motivation and activism to miraculously return. To that effect, we have good news and bad news for you.

The bad news is, as Sir Isaac Newton stated within his First Law of Motion, an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Put differently, if you're reading this from the couch, then you will stay on the couch unless...

You get outside. Now. Before the natural human preference of taking the path of least resistance tries to keep you at rest. Hear us out - your ability to do so is the good news, because clinical data overwhelmingly supports the finding that outdoor recreation decreases stress, activates neural activity, boosts creativity, and enhances feelings of revitalization. Something we could all benefit from in the post-holidays/Lions celebratory wake.

But wait, there's more. The even better news is that the majority of Detroit's suburban residents hardly need to travel in order to reach one of our region's "hidden natural gems." While massive Michigan State Recreation Areas like Waterloo, Pinckney, Holly, and Highland offer opportunities for multi-day wilderness adventures, the reality for most Detroit region residents remains that beautiful, scenic, relaxed, and convenient trails are often the best trails for "Recovery Days" like today. We've covered some of these in the past, like West Bloomfield's Woods Nature Preserve Trail, Livonia's Newburgh Lakeview Trail, and Detroit's Dequindre Cut.

This edition introduces another beloved trail to your local rolodex: Troy's Lloyd A. Stage Nature Center's Blackbird, Fox, and Sugar Maple Loops.

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Outdoorists love natural places for a vast variety of reasons. Wildlife and wildflower viewing. Stunning terrain. Challenging exercise. Connection. Isolation. An opportunity to retreat from modernity.

One rationale that often gets overlooked however - one that is especially pertinent to developed areas like Metro Detroit - was best summed up by George Mallory: "Because it's there."

In the brief history of the Lloyd A. Stage Nature Center, there was nearly a reality where the Stage Nature Center and its 100 acres would not "be there." After the Stage Nature Center's acquisition by the City of Troy in 1970, the Center gradually grew to provide the public with an interpretative nature center building, an observation bee hive, wildlife viewing area, more than 145 plant and animal species, and nearly 2 miles of natural trails. The cumulation of those conservation actions were nearly dashed in 2010, however, when the city announced the planned closure of the Stage Nature Center. Fortunately for all of us, the newly-created Troy Nature Society raised adequate funds to acquire - and preserve - the Stage Nature Center for generations to come.

In its present form, the Stage Nature Center continues to engage greater Troy's recreational community with nature-inspired public programs designed for families, children, and seniors. The Stage Nature Center also conducts programming for school and community groups, along with guided nature walks and targeted school outreach nature studies.

Most importantly, the incredible team at the TNS maintain the Stage Nature Center's trail network: nearly two miles of trails that take visitors through lowland and upland forests, a meadow, and across boardwalks through marshlands.


Total Distance: 1.7 miles

Elevation Gain: 72 feet

Trail Rating: Easy

Route Orientation: Loop

Parking Specifics: Free parking available at the main Coolidge Hwy trailhead

Your "Recovery Hike" at the Stage Nature Center begins right where all great hikes do - the edge of the parking lot. Follow the paved path out of the parking lot and directly towards the nature center before passing through the gate on your left side. There are restrooms within the nature center, although note that the center closes at either 3 (weekdays) or 4 p.m. (weeknights). The trails are open from dawn until dusk year-round though, so anyone heading straight for the trails will have unrestricted access as long as the sun's shining.

Before digging into the Stage Nature Center's trail system, be advised that the trails are only permitted for hiking and walking. Pets, bikes, running, skiing, collecting, foraging, and wildlife feeding are strictly prohibited. Interestingly, snowshoeing along the trails is not only permitted, but encouraged by the Stage Nature Center. So please, when the pow's fresh, be sure to whip out the snowshoes!

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Once you reach the paved portion of the Sugar Maple Loop at approximately 0.1 miles into your hike, turn right to follow the trail along the northern banks of the Rouge River. Once over the bridge and on the natural trail, continue for 0.2 more miles until reaching the origination point of the Stage Nature Center's longest loop: the forested Blackbird Loop.

Stay left at the Blackbird Loop's divergent point at the 0.3 mile marker. Taking this route will guide you to the trail's highest elevation at 851 feet, which you'll reach just before the 0.5 mile marker. There are benches available at this point for rest, although the gentle 6% incline on the way up may only a brief, moderate challenge at its worst for certain hikers. Most will simply enjoy the elevation change and panoramic views as they reach the top of the trail.

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After a 0.2 mile decline, keep left at the 0.7 mile marker to continue onto the Stage Nature Center's "Fox Trail." This brief marshland section of the trail provides great wildlife viewing and boardwalk hiking opportunities. On our trek, we came almost within petting distance of a few whitetail deer. Truly, suburban deer have no fear.

One "can't miss spot" along the trail pops up at the 0.8 mile marker. Head right at the trail split to briefly detour to the center's "Marsh Tower," an excellent opportunity to view the Rouge River, underlying marshlands, and any wildlife that may be traversing below or flying right at your eye level. Bird watchers may want to linger here for awhile: the tower will provide your best shot for photographing the wild turkeys, herons, songbirds, and other birds that frequent the preserve.

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From the Marsh Tower, briefly double-back to complete the remaining 0.3 miles of the Fox Trail. This portion of the greater trail system was one of my personal favorites. Beyond fluctuating elevation changes and more deer sightings, the trail also takes hikers through the Stage Nature Center's "Outdoor Classroom." With towering pines overhead, walking through this area brought me right back to long days spent at summer camps as a kid, which often featured outdoor educational sessions that were brief enough to keep my attention but long enough to make an impact.

We at Expedition Detroit firmly believe that the world needs more outdoor classrooms. Places where children learn about the natural environment - and then immediately experience it firsthand to create a lasting, tangible impression. Books and screens can only accomplish so much, especially in a post-pandemic world where virtual learning has largely become the norm. There's nothing wrong with those technologies, but there's just something innately human about genuine field research.

Anyways... that's an example of the thoughts that cross your mind while on trail. Big fan of the outdoor classroom concept.

Back to the trail.

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The final 0.2 miles of the Blackbird Loop - which you will rejoin after crossing a bridge currently undergoing renovations - largely consists of retracing your steps as you venture closer to the Sugar Maple Loop. Once you reconnect back to Sugar Maple, however, keep right to complete the loop within the preserve's only "lowland forest" habitat. Again, keep your head on a swivel here for both wild turkeys and very desensitized deer. They seem to really, really like this trail.

With a fourth and final crossing over the Rouge River, you will have successfully trekked through the Stage Nature Center's five distinct habitats - all under two miles and within 100 acres. Most importantly, you will have given yourself the gift of fresh air, pristine trails, and a much needed dose of revitalization.

This is our final #TrailTuesday for 2023, so we'd like to briefly thank our faithful following for reading and experiencing each of this year's highlighted trails. There are still SO MANY TRAILS left to uncover in 2024, so we hope that you will stay with us as we continue this series.

Happy New Year, everyone. As always, we'll see you at the trailhead!


Looking for any belated gifts to keep the holiday spirit going? How about something easy for kicking off any outdoor New Year's resolutions? Expedition Detroit has the perfect solution for you - give the gift of Detroit's outdoors with our EGIFT CARD, available for use when booking any of our guided hikes AND for purchases from our online store!

The #TrailTuesday Series idea started as a recommendation from readers looking for a deeper analysis into the individual trails that define Detroit's vast network. One of our main goals for this platform is to produce content that reflects the outdoor interests and desires of our community, so please continue to provide us with your suggestions via our contact form or here in the comments!


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