Cross-country skiing in Ottawa County

Becky Vargo • Dec 20, 2017 at 12:00 PM

WEST OLIVE — Ask someone cross-country skiing at Ottawa County’s Pigeon Creek Park what is their favorite place to ski, and they’ll almost always name their current location. 

An informal poll conducted Saturday at the park (when we still had good, fresh skiing snow) produced that answer every time.

And it should be mentioned that it’s free to ski at the park.

“We like the groomed trails,” said Daryl Sieplinga of Caledonia, who was skiing with his children and grandchildren. “The nice, wide open trails are great for beginners.”

Amber Hoeve of Zeeland, who was skiing with her mother at Pigeon Creek, said: “This is where we come the most often.”

One Grand Rapids man, in passing, said he always goes to Pigeon Creek after a fresh snowfall because he knows the parking lot will be plowed and he won’t get stuck.

Another fan, Jackie Rowland, said she likes that she can rent equipment to try before buying her own.

Pigeon Creek, located at 12524 Stanton St. in West Olive, also has a lodge that is open when winter sled and ski conditions are good. Hours during those times are 4-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 1-10 p.m. Fridays, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays, and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays.

There are miles of classic and skate trails, as well as some lighted trails, ranging from “easy” to “difficult.” The signs are easy to follow and note the level of difficulty.

There are plenty of parks in Ottawa County, but the parks system grooms only the trails at Pigeon Creek.

“We focus our energy on making Pigeon Creek a cross-country ski destination,” County Parks Communications Specialist Jessica VanGinhoven said. “That’s the only park where we groom and set track.”

VanGinhoven said the county does compact snow a couple of times a year at Eastmanville Farm, 7851 Leonard Road in Polkton Township. She said that makes things nice for hikers and skiers. The trails are wide and there are nice rolling hills. 

Riley Trails, 16300 Riley St. in Park Township, is also a popular spot for cross-country skiing, VanGinhoven said.

“The trails get compacted by volunteers who use them for fat-tire biking,” she said. “The roller they use is a bit narrower than a traditional one, but it gets the job done.”

Cross-country skiing is also popular, along with snowshoeing, at Hemlock Crossing County Park, 8115 West Olive Road, West Olive.

“The trails are well-marked for skiers and there are some good hills,” VanGinhoven said.

Anyone looking for a challenge might also try the North Ottawa Dunes, which is most easily accessed from the Coast Guard Park trailhead in Ferrysburg, or P.J. Hoffmaster State Park in Norton Shores. Other nice skiing can be found at Crockery Creek, the Upper Macatawa Natural Area and Grand River Park.

VanGinhoven said people should also consider some of the county parks’ open spaces, such as the Port Sheldon Natural Area and Hiawatha Forest.

My personal local favorites

Spring Lake Township’s Rycenga Park has mostly flat, wide trails. They are not groomed and are favored by people walking dogs, but they make a great spot to get in a quick ski when you are in a hurry. When it’s really snowy and cold, you usually have the place to yourself.

Coast Guard Park/North Ottawa Dunes/P.J. Hoffmaster State Park. Once your ski legs are steady, you might consider more of a challenge in the dunes in these three connecting parks in Ferrysburg, Spring Lake Township and Norton Shores. Again, they are not groomed, but they are fun, challenging and beautiful.

Grand Haven Township’s Hofma Preserve/Hofma Park. Mostly flat (not groomed) trails wind through the woods for miles in these parks. There is parking on both sides. The preserve and park are connected by a boardwalk across the west end of Pottawattomie Bayou.

Hemlock Crossing. This is for the day you want flat on one side of the Pigeon River and hills on the other. The trails connect to Pine Bend County Park.

Pigeon Creek. This is a bit of a trek for me, but it’s a good place to go when you get out of work after dark and want to ski on lighted trails. The rest of the reasons are in the story above. Check trail conditions at www.miottawa.org/TrailConditions/retrievePublicList.action.

Crockery Creek. Forget I mentioned it: I like the quiet here. This is mostly flat and can have some wet areas under the snow.

Eastmanville Farms. This is nice, rolling and open. It goes through open field a lot, so be prepared for some wind. 

Muskegon County. The only other groomed ski area within close reach is the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex, 426 N. Scenic Drive, North Muskegon. It has 15 kilometers of lighted ski trails, but a daily or seasonal pass is required (it’s worth it). The complex also has a luge trail, skating rinks and a skating trail, and a lodge with rentals. Check out its website (www.msports.org/) for more information.

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