To Jenny Cook, there is nothing like the freedom of riding a horse along the shoreline of big water like Lake Michigan.
“I like to describe it as the ultimate freedom,” says Cook, who lives in Kalamazoo and is appointed by the governor of Michigan to represent equestrian trail riders to state public land managers and other groups. “It’s just a way to enjoy the shoreline like you never have before.”
But there has been no place to do it in Michigan—until now. Come Nov. 1, Silver Lake State Park in Mears is opening its first official shoreline riding season through Nov. 30. Riders who pay a $10 registration fee can sign up in advance for one of 100 slots per day. They’ll be able to bring their horses to follow a route from the parking lot to the beach, where 3 miles of shoreline await.
Cook had approached the state about the idea of shoreline riding several years ago, believing it would create another tourist attraction in addition to offering opportunities for Michigan riders. State officials concluded Silver Lake would be the best spot, she says, in part because it has a parking area that can accommodate the big rigs that carry riders and their horses. “It checked all the boxes,” Cook says.
Park Manager Jody Johnston says they determined November would be the best time. Silver Lake has an ORV season that lets off-road vehicles use designated trails and areas from April 1 through Halloween. The park is also rolling out a new fat tire bike season that will run Dec. 15 to March 15.
“I can’t get horses and people out here in the summertime when there are ORVs and other stuff going on,” says Park Manager Jody Johnston. “They inquired about springtime, but a lot of times, we have a lot of snow and ice underneath the sand that can cause the horse to fall. We determined the month of November is what we could accommodate.”
Pilot rides were held in previous years to see how it would work out. As a result, the Michigan Horse Council offered to underwrite a rented utility vehicle that volunteers will use to pick up manure daily during November. The council is also providing a bond to guarantee that manure will be removed. Cook has organized Michigan Shoreline Horse Friends to enlist volunteers to do the work.
“Each and every day, we’ve got at least two volunteers coming out to pick up manure the horses leave behind,” Johnston says. “I know we’ll always be known at Silver Lake for ORVs, but here are two more activities for people to participate in.”
Cook couldn’t be more delighted, saying, “Here in Michigan, horseback riders would love to have places to ride and unfortunately, we are not allowed on a lot of public lands. It was a dream of mine to ride horses on the Lake Michigan shoreline and I knew other people would enjoy it, too. It’s really exciting.”
Registration is open here.