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City and country: How metro Detroiters enjoy the best of both worlds


 
Ameera Chaaban works at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn.

Ameera Chaaban kayaks the Huron River in Proud Lake State Park. She serves as the President of the Friends of Proud Lake.

Rick and Jenn Wetherald work and live in Wyandotte, where they enjoy the proximity to amenities like coffee shops and restaurants.

Rick and Jenn Wetherald bike fat tire tracks weekly during the winter to spend time outdoors with each other. In the summer, they switch to mountain bikes.

 Lauralyn Taylor spends her days as a teacher at Cass Tech High School in downtown Detroit.

 Lauralyn Taylor says she often comes to Maybury State Park, because its wide variety of trails can accommodate runs of all different lengths.


In some areas, you have to choose: vibrant urban scenes or majestic natural landscapes. But with a little planning and ingenuity, metro Detroiters can have it both ways.

In this photo-audio-essay series, we explore how four residents combine city living with outdoor recreation in southeast Michigan.

Ameera Chaaban - paddler, cross country skier, walker

Ameera lives in Detroit and works at the Arab American National Museum and Heavner Canoe & Kayak Rental. We met up with her at Proud Lake Recreation Area for kayaking


 
What are some of the perks of urban living that you enjoy?


I like the convenience of being so close to museums like the Arab American National Museum [where I work], the DIA, the Dearborn Historical Museum, the Detroit Historical Museum; shops; stores; and Eastern Market. I like being connected with the people who are in an urban environment as well as the events that happen around here.

What are some of the natural areas near where you live that you like to take advantage of?

I like Belle Isle and Milliken State Park. The Henry Ford Estates has a water feature with the Rouge River as well as some trails you can hike on within the park. There’s Ford Woods and Ford Field, the park in Dearborn. I also like just walking around my neighborhood. We have some tree-lined streets pretty close to where I live in Warrendale. 

How have you structured your life so that you can take advantage of urban living and outdoor recreation?

[Because I have two jobs], it really depends on where I am working on any given day. So, for days that I am at the museum, I might go for a walk, locally, or around the block or something with my friend after work. Days I’m at Heavners, I have more chance to be outside. Free days are reserved for friends or family to suggest outdoor activities. I’ve allowed time in my schedule where an impromptu invitation can be accepted to do things like kayak or go cross-country skiing.

What do you get out of having access to both urban amenities and natural areas?

Really, the best of both worlds. [Living in an urban area], it’s great to be able to go to a community event or a free talk. And then I have the health benefits of being able to go out on the water or on the trails with friends and the benefits of the actual physical activity involved.

What would make it easier for you to take advantage of both urban and natural amenities while living in Southeast Michigan?

If there were outdoor features closer to me, for example, if drive time were reduced, and just generally more outdoor areas in more locations. I’d also like to see more handicap-accessible canoe and kayak launches. What that means is to have rollers on the launches as well as various instruments for people in wheelchairs to lower themselves into the canoe/kayak without additional help, to be able to do it by themselves. It’s important to me to have what is known as DEI – Diversity Equity and Inclusion – within the outdoors because it just makes me feel better to know that more people are able to get outdoors.

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Rick & Jenn Wetherald – cyclists 

The Wetheralds live in Wyandotte. Rick is a doctor of physical therapy at Advanced Physical Therapy in Monroe and Jenn works as an obstetrician-gynecologist at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital. We met them at River Bends Park for fat bike trail riding.



What are some perks of urban living that you enjoy?


Rick: There’s a lot around; you don’t have to drive very far for the amenities. You can be close to work, close to the grocery store, and close to a bunch of different riding spots or parks.

Jenn: Exposure to multiple cultures in a very close area.

What are some natural areas near where you live that you like to take advantage of?

Rick: We live in Wyandotte, so we’re kind of equidistant from all the parks. We like to go to Munson Park in Monroe, MI, out here at River Bends, and Addison Oaks, an Oakland County Park in Leonard.

Jenn: I love Island Lake. It’s peaceful, remote, and gorgeous.

How have you structured your life so that you can take advantage of urban living and outdoor recreation?

Rick: For me, bike racing is almost my whole life, so everything about where we choose to live -- what we’re gonna do, where I choose to work, everything -- is centered around, “Can I get there on the bike?” or “Can I ride somewhere close to that?” So, I’d say almost everything I do is structured around the bike.

One of the perks of working where I work is that I can get access to some of the county roads and the parks, so I can ride right before and immediately after work without much of a commute.

Jenn: We live close to the hospital that I work at, so I’m able to commute to work [by bike] very easily. There’s also a running trail behind where I work.

What do you get out of having access to both urban amenities and natural areas?

Jenn: I get a broader perspective and an easier appreciation for each of them. When you’re out in the open, you appreciate the amenities of being in an urban setting where you have everything close and nearby. But when you’re in an urban setting, you can also look at the outdoors and appreciate wanting to be away from everything.

Rick: You get the creature comforts of being in an urban area. But if you get tired of being inside, it’s nice to be close to somewhere you can get outside.

What would make it easier for you to take advantage of both urban and natural amenities while living in southeast Michigan?

Rick: If more of the parks had single-track mountain bike trails available to ride. The roads could also be a little bit more bike-friendly for getting out on the road bike.

Jenn: I think if we had more groups that participated together in both the urban life and the outdoor life, particularly the outdoor life, it would be a little easier to know where these things are and a little easier to access them. Then you would have [more] people to influence you to go out to these places. I also think respect among drivers towards cyclists and cyclists towards drivers. If we could foster that, it would make things a little better.

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Lauralyn Taylor – runner, swimmer, bicyclist (triathlete)

Lauralyn lives in Plymouth and teaches at Cass Technical High School in Detroit. We met up with her at Maybury State Park for a trail run.
 

 
What are some of the perks of urban living that you enjoy?
 
I’m a vegetarian, and I have the advantage of having restaurants that offer vegetarians a wide variety of things that compliment my athletic lifestyle. It’s great because it’s a center where I can have the advantage of meeting lots of runners from around southeast Michigan where we come together collectively.

I often will bring my children to downtown Detroit. At Campus Martius, there’s ice-skating; in the summer there’s volleyball, basketball, foosball, and free concerts. We go to Belle Isle for swimming and the big slide.
 
There’s a lot for suburbanites to do in the city as well as for people in the city to do out in the suburbs.

What are some of the natural areas near where you live that you like to take advantage of?

I moved to Plymouth to live on Hines Drive. I’m a triathlete, so I ride my bike on Hines, along the US-23 trail. I also run there. And then I swim, bike, and run on Belle Isle – it’s a great place to do what triathletes call a “brick workout.” 
 
And then I can also take advantage of the many lakes in the area as well. I grew up on Silver Lake in South Lyon, so I like to swim in that one. There’s Island Lake near Novi where there’s a triathlon, so I swim there with friends. Then there’s Island Lake in Brighton, as well, that I’ll swim in. And then quite a few of us also train at Kensington [Metropark], and then I also have a group of friends who like to train at Stoney Creek [Metropark].

How have you structured your life so that you can take advantage of urban living and outdoor recreation?

I always bring my clothes to work [at Cass Tech], change at work, and then go and do what I want to do. I never go home first, because if I go home I’m gonna sit down, I’m gonna watch TV, I’m gonna start doing dishes, or I’m gonna get on the computer, and then I won’t be as active.

Sometimes I’ll train right in downtown Detroit. I’ll drive down to the Riverwalk in Detroit, and then I’ll run the Riverwalk and the Dequindre Cut. There will be other times where I will come home and I’ll train on Hines [Drive], or I’ll come here to Maybury State Park and I’ll train.


What do you get out of having access to both urban amenities and natural areas?

There’s an endless amount of trails. This trail right here that we’re on, I can easily make this an 18 mile run, or I could easily only have it be a four mile run, or if I wanted to come and just do one mile, I could do one mile. There’s people with their dogs, and everybody is smiling. 
 
Nobody comes to the park in a bad mood. Or, nobody comes and stays in a bad mood at the park. So when we’re walking people are nodding to each other they’re saying, “Hi,” they’re saying “How are you?” It’s this world away from the technology. When you’re at the gym and people put their headphones on, everybody’s just looking like a drone as they get through their miles that way to stay fit. When you’re on the trails it’s a way to stay physically fit but it’s a way also to stay emotionally and spiritually fit as well.
 
What would make it easier for you to take advantage of both urban and natural amenities while living in Southeast Michigan?

I think they make it easy. Maybury is a state park, so they have the state recreational pass. It’s not very expensive to purchase, and then you have access to all of the state parks in Michigan. Even though the Metroparks have a different fee, there’s so much that you get out of it. 
 
When I run here, every so many miles there is a place for me to use the bathroom. There’s a building right up the top of this hill that has a stone fireplace in it that people can have a bonfire inside in a shelter. Last year, when we had many feet of snow, these trails were maintained by somebody who came through, and so we were always able to run on these trails, even when the streets were un-runnable. 
 
I don’t think they can make it any easier. People just need to know about [the parks], and oftentimes people aren’t aware that they’re here.

This story is a part of a statewide Community Impact Series edited by Nina Ignaczak. Support for this series is provided by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Audio vignettes produced by Laura Herberg.
Music: “Where Do You Go” by Bill Lennox and Bobby Colombo (Bonny Doon), 
“Waterfall” by Bill Lennox and Bobby Colombo (Bonny Doon)
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