Palmer Park on Two Wheels

DETROIT—On a hot evening in Detroit, a group of 18 bicyclists gather in the parking lot adjacent to the waterless outdoor swimming pool at the south edge of Palmer Park.

As folks gather, arriving by car and bike, most of us engage in introductions and small talk; others ride in small circles or figure eights as if under the Big Top, anxious for the 7:30 ride to begin.

Sarah James and her boyfriend Henry Ford II, both members of People for Palmer Park, a group trying to restore the park to its fullest potential, sport a red tandem Raleigh. They are the orchestrators and leaders of the outing, and without much ado, we are off!

Cutting across the black top and onto a paved path, we cruise by the Detroit Mounted Police compound with saddle blankets hanging on a line out back.

In seconds, we are into the woods. Wait, the woods in the middle of Detroit? Indeed. Palmer Park actually has 13 miles of trails for hiking or biking through woods and park areas.

After a rain earlier in the day, the forest smells richly of pine and cedar and the trees muffle the sounds of nearby Woodward Ave. It’s quiet and peaceful, with just the crunch of gravel and twigs under our wheels.

We cruise at a pace that’s neither hurried nor lollygagging.  The trail is surprisingly clean, but there are littered stretches and an occasional surprise, like the pair of men’s jeans strewn in a clearing.

After a few miles, we’re out of the woods, back onto roads, cruising around the Palmer Park Apartment District, a mix of occupied and abandoned brick structures.

We cruise north on a glass-smattered sidewalk along Woodward Avenue for a stretch, skirting the Palmer Park public golf course. Riding through old neighborhoods, we wave, ring bells and say “howdy” to folks on foot, like we’re on the set of a Minute Made lemonade commercial.

We ride past the more chichi Detroit Golf Club, down side streets, nodding and smiling at all whom we pass: some waiting at bus stops; others trekking on foot with the day’s groceries.

We pass by Palmer Park’s bustling tennis courts and by the newly planted (by the People for Palmer Park) apple tree orchards.

Our group is made up of serious cyclists and novices alike, but the spirit is clearly about community and camaraderie, rather than gear, equipment and fitness level.

We are middle-aged folks, twenty-something college students, and seniors. Lots of folks live in the nearby neighborhoods of Palmer Park, Green Acres or Sherwood Forest. Some have driven or ridden from slightly farther stretches: Hazel Park, Ferndale and Royal Oak.

I make a new friend that’s traveled here from Grosse Pointe. He went to college at University of Detroit; curiosity about his alma mater neighborhood and a desire to ride has lured him across town.

As dusk digs her heels in, the eight-mile-or-so ride ends with another loop through the woods, around a manmade pond abundant with geese, and past Palmer Park’s majestic log cabin (Detroit’s only log cabin, built in 1885).

Rides like this – carefree rides without much of a plan – remind me of being a kid. How I’d just hop on my bike, pick up my friends and cruise – plain and simple (well, okay, sometimes no-handed and sometimes with a skateboarding pal in tow).

We didn’t have an agenda; we weren’t trying to get our heart rate up or burn fat. Instead, it was pure play.  Sometimes us adults forget that we, too, need time to play, and biking is a joyous way to do that.

To see photos from the ride, click here.


Support People for Palmer Park, a 501c3 organization that cleans trails, picks up garbage, and organizes events for the enjoyment and vitality of residents and visitors. Heck, they even plant orchards!

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