Art in the Park

Michigan Legacy Art Park near Traverse City is a great site for kids to combine art and nature.

Twigs snap underfoot and sunlight filters through the leaves as visitors wander sometimes-steep dirt paths in this 30-acre nature preserve in northwestern Michigan. But this isn’t just any old forest hike.

Here, colorful windmills and weathervanes swing and twirl in the westerly winds, and a huge white bonnet leans on its side in the underbrush. Silhouettes wearing bowler hats are painted with natural mulberry dye on the gray bark of beech trees, and a long snake of a serpent mound—filled with clay butterflies, spiders and other artifacts made by local students—winds its way through a clearing.

Welcome to Michigan Legacy Art Park. Home to artists’ interpretations of the state’s history, this 30-acre sculpture garden located next to the award-winning Crystal Mountain Resort displays 40 pieces of art along three trails. Some short and nearly level others a mix of hills and flat terrain; the 1.6 miles of paths takes about two hours to hike, with time to pause and examine the artwork.

Unconventional Art

While the park discourages interaction with most of the pieces, kids can run wild at the venue’s Stockade Labyrinth. Devised by artist and park founder David Barr, this maze-like fort takes modern explorers on a trip through time, symbolized by mounted objects from fur-traders’ paddles and French words to fishing nets and farming implements. Within the 10-foot-high walls it’s easy to take a wrong turn and find yourself at a dead end, but those who persist eventually arrive at the top of a few flights of stairs and are treated to a view of the forest below and a map showing the exact location of the park on the planet.

Observing art is one thing, but families also can create their own potential masterpieces through the park’s new summertime outdoor art workshops, offered in partnership with the Crystal Lake Art Center. Classes for kids and their parents include sculpture, painting and making miniature wardrobes, using natural materials, for elves and fairies. Photography, sculpture and sketching are offered for adults. Kids’ classes cost around $10, while costs for adults range from $20 for a one-day class to almost $200 for more intensive, multi-day workshops..

For the aurally inclined, Legacy Park also hosts summer concerts. The sounds of bluegrass, jazz, chamber music and even an occasional reading fill the air in the amphitheatre area in the midst of the park. Concerts cost $8 for adults, $5 for children and $20 for families. Lawnchairs and/or blankets are suggested.

Crystal Mountain Resort

An extraordinary place—and one that demands bug-spray during mosquito season—the Michigan Legacy Art Park is largely supported by Crystal Mountain Resort, a 50-year-old family resort that provides a full slate of interesting activities like geo-caching—the hunt for hidden objects using GPS (Global Positioning System), outdoor movie screenings and Wings of Wonder, an educational program where kids and their parents can travel to the top of the mountain and learn about falcons, owls and hawks while looking them in the eye. Other resort offerings include bike rentals and the one-acre Park at Water’s Edge, a water park with a climbing wall and sand and water playgrounds, free to resort guests. The surrounding area offers an abundance of recreational opportunities, including river rafting on the Platte River and dune hiking at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

The art park and other resort facilities can be visited by people not staying at the resort. Admission to the Michigan Legacy Art Park is by donation, with a suggested amount of $3 per person or $10 per family.

Destinations: Traverse City

Themes: Art and Museums, Family Travel

Activities: Parks and Playgrounds