By Nate Reens MLive/The Grand Rapids Press
As a Central Michigan University graduate student, Amy C. Powell and her friends escaped the stress of school by getting off campus to relax at Deerfield Nature Park.
Eighteen years after those 2003 excursions, Powell, the executive director of Art Reach of Mid Michigan, still finds solace and release in the 591 acres of property that, if possible, is both the crown jewel and the hidden gem of the Isabella County Parks and Recreation system.
Powell now finds herself bringing her children to hike the park’s trails in the spring, summer and fall and cross-country ski the groomed trails during the winter months.
“The beauty of the park is phenomenal all year long, and I love the fact that it’s only five miles from town, but it feels like you’re in the middle of a forest,” Powell said. “You don’t hear any noise except for nature.”
“I can’t say enough good about it, and it’s an amazing to think that it’s been such an important place for me for so long.”
Deerfield, as the county’s largest park, was developed to be a year-round attraction for the region’s residents and its visitors, said Sue Ann Kopmeyer, the parks and recreation department’s director. The park set attendance records in 2020 as more people discovered the grounds or returned multiple times a season.
“It’s an outlet for people, a way for them to get away and get active,” Kopmeyer said. “But it’s also an ideal spot for passive recreation. With the Chippewa River cutting through the park and through the woods, you can just sit along the river banks and the trees and soak it all in.
“It’s got a rhythm of its own for everyone.”
Part of the park’s charm and originality is found in three bridges that hikers can use to travel over the Chippewa River, including Fisher’s Covered Bridge and two swinging bridges. The structures make Deerfield the only place in Michigan where visitors can experience both covered and suspension spans.
The covered bridge was built in 1968 and then reconstructed in 1986 after a fire destroyed the overpass. The first swing bridge is only a short walk from the parking lot and marks the start of the 2.5-mile Wildwood Pathway, while the second is roughly 1-mile away on the River Loop.
“There is really no other place like it,” Kopmeyer said.
The natural surroundings are the draw for Mallorie Beavers, a Central Michigan University student who expects to graduate in the spring of 2021. Beavers grew up in nearby Shepherd, but she had never heard of the park until her first year of college. She’s since introduced the property to family and friends by enjoying picnics, hiking and setting up a hammock between trees at various points in the park.
“Friends, including ones who enjoy photography, make it a point to capture the changing seasons and views from different vantage points,” Beavers said.
“It’s really grounding,” she said. “The park is big enough that it feels like you’re finding something new every time you go, and there’s enough room that you feel you’re out on your own.”
Beavers and Powell say Deerfield Nature Park separates itself from other recreation areas through multiple amenities for people of all ages and interests.
Here are some of the park’s features:
- Eight miles of hiking and biking trails.
- Groomed cross-country skiing trails.
- A sledding hill.
- A sandy swimming beach.
- Fishing and ice fishing opportunities.
- Kayak and canoe launch.
- Volleyball and horseshoe areas.
- Two 18-hole disc golf courses.
- Ten remote camping sites.
- Multiple picnic areas, including four reservable covered pavilions.
- A covered bridge and two swing bridges.
The recreation has its ebbs and flows by the season, highlighted by: