Riverside-Rearing: A Mom’s Guide to the Muskegon River Watershed

Hiking Along the River with our Tiny Trailblazers

By Sarah Marie Himes, MRWA Assistant


It has been a very rainy, and sometimes snowy, start to the 2022 spring season in West Michigan. But, despite the muddy, cold weather, my family and I have managed to enjoy short hikes to get rid of our “cabin fever”.

Hiking, also known as “Mommy, I’m tired” walks by my adorably whiny daughter, Sabrina – are becoming more and more enjoyable due to her increased love for nature. Home to hundreds of miles of trails, the Muskegon River Watershed is the perfect place for little ones to learn more about our local ecosystems – while incorporating exercise, etiquette, and exploration.


One of our nearby kid-friendly trails includes the Big Rapids’ “Riverwalk”. It spans from the Water Treatment Plant to Northend Riverside Park, with plenty of bathroom spots along the way for our potty-training tots. The river can be safely viewed from the trail along with marshland and vernal ponds allowing children to see many amphibians, reptiles, and birds. It is mostly paved, which is perfect for strollers, bicycles, and first-timers trying to get their family active without going “off the grid”. To give kids an incentive for finishing their walk, you can offer them “playtime” at one of the play structures at Hemlock Park and Northend Riverside Park.

The Big Rapids’ “Riverwalk” is just over 3 miles going one way. Depending on your’s and your child’s health, you can set goals to reach a certain mile or landmark each time you hit the trails.

I recommend bringing snacks and plenty of water, but make sure you dispose of your garbage in the trash receptacles found in various spots along the walk.


When it comes to merging nature with etiquette, it goes beyond just saying “please” and “thank you”. I often tell Sabrina the quote from the Native American chief, Chief Seattle who said, “take only memories, leave only footprints”. To us, this means respecting nature and enjoying it in its natural state as much as we possibly can.

Other trail etiquette includes sharing the path with other walkers, respecting their space, and taking turns when observing “must-see” spots along the trail. It shows our kiddos how to be “better” humans overall.

In order to dive a little deeper into a more “natural” area, my family and I enjoy the Clay Cliff Nature Area in Big Rapids – which follows one of the Muskegon River’s tributaries, Mitchell Creek. Depending on the time of year, there are small, yet beautiful waterfalls and plenty of wildlife to observe. The trails are not paved, and some of the spots can be a little tricky due to actual clay cliffs and erosion. Sabrina loves this little adventure and pretends we’re pirates hiking across a jungle looking for lost treasure.


From using the imagination to problem-solving, exploring the Muskegon River Watershed has given my family an ever-flowing teaching and learning tool. While exploring just a small part of the North Country Trail, near Croton Dam in Newaygo County, I asked my daughter to say what she saw and heard around her. Then, I asked her to describe the colors and shapes of different objects, animals, and plants we found on our walk.

A very important lesson we had learned is how pollution affects the wildlife living in and around the river. After spotting a deceased fish wrapped up in fishing line, Sabrina asked  “What happened to the fish, mommy?”.  I responded back to her with the same question, and after examining the very tiny, smallmouth bass, we made up our own theories.

Exploring the river at different points of the year can also be very beneficial. The landscape alone changes drastically with each season – and the path that was taken during the spring, is now a new trail of discovery for our tiny trailblazers.

MRWA Junior Researchers Activity

Parents, take your child(ren) for a walk along any part of the Muskegon River Watershed. Use this scavenger hunt worksheet to identify local birds, amphibians, mammals, fish, plants and reptiles. Depending on their age – your child(ren) can draw what they see, or identify and describe the colors, shapes and other characteristics on the animal or plant.

Of course, use caution and keep a safe distance when observing wild animals.

Once your child has completed the worksheet, you can submit it to the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly (MRWA) for your child’s chance to win a prize! The worksheet must be submitted by May 31st, 2022. Only (1) participant will win, and it will be announced on MRWA’s Facebook Page on June 1st, 2022. The winner will be selected at random.

You can mail this worksheet to: Muskegon River Watershed Assembly, @Ferris State University, 1009 Campus Dr., JOH 305, Big Rapids, MI  49307.

Or, send it via email to MRWA01@ferris.edu.

I am always looking for new ideas to help encourage our children to love and appreciate nature in the hopes that our future will be bright for all living things. Email me at MRWA01@ferris.edu the ways you and your family enjoy the Muskegon River Watershed.

* I am not a health expert or doctor, so use caution when doing any type of exercise.  Consult your doctor/physician before starting a new exercise routine.