Outdoor Adventure Center open for business - and fun - in Detroit

Two young boys peer get a closer look at the fish swimming in the Outdoor Adventure Center aquarium

Aug. 3, 2015

Almost 10 years since its initial vision and after more than five years of construction, the Department of Natural Resources’ Outdoor Adventure Center in downtown Detroit is open for visitors.

Located in the historic Globe building, the Outdoor Adventure Center (OAC) is a combination education and recreation facility, built with a goal of bringing “up north” to downtown. But the facility also highlights how important Detroit is to Michigan and its natural resources.

The OAC comes on the heels of the DNR managing other state parks in Detroit in recent years, including William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor and Belle Isle Park. These parks demonstrate the DNR’s commitment to conservation and outdoor recreation in an urban environment.

kids playing at campsite at Outdoor Adventure CenterThe OAC offers plenty of exhibits and displays that show Michigan’s natural resources are not limited to the northern parts of the state and how Detroit has – and still does – fit into the picture.

Immediately upon entering the facility, a display commemorates Detroit as a historic ship-building center and a hub of the pre-settlement fur trade. Educational displays on everything from recycling to making home appliances more energy-efficient illustrate the significance of conservation to all Michiganders.

Still, it is the outdoor recreation and natural resources of the state that serve as the drawing card.

The OAC features a wide range of hands-on activities for folks of all ages. Visitors can touch the fur of a variety of Michigan mammals – from beavers to skunks (eww). They can learn the differences among Michigan’s frogs and toads and hear their calls by pressing on display models. They can gain understanding of various Michigan habitats – wetlands, pine forests or aspen stands, among them – through dioramas and accompanying texts.

Or visitors can go for the fun.

Folks can sit in a fishing boat and try their hand at catching largemouth or smallmouth bass, salmon or lake trout at a fishing simulator. They can climb on a snowmobile or off-road vehicle and experience the thrill of blasting along a trail through the woods with accompanying video. They can try wing-shooting or big-game hunting at an arcade-like shooting simulator. They can try paddling a kayak or enjoying an exhilarating mountain bike ride at those simulators.
woman and child using the OAC fishing simulator

There’s a four-target archery range, sponsored by Safari Club International, which will be available for classes and by appointment only, until enough staffers have been certified to teach archery.

“We hope to have drop-in archery by November,” said OAC Director Linda Walter. “We want the OAC to be a cornerstone of the riverfront and be a place where people, young and old, can experience ‘up north, downtown.’ Our team will ensure that the center is an exciting experience for all.”

But the OAC isn’t only about fun.

“It’s both educational and recreational,” said Jon Spieles, field manager for educational services at the DNR, who was heavily involved in the OAC’s design. “And it’s an additional activity on the Detroit waterfront that’s safe, fun and outdoor recreation- and conservation-related. It fits right in with Belle Isle and Milliken State Park.”

The OAC features a 3,000-gallon aquarium, stocked with native fish species, and a 36-foot artificial waterfall. There’s a life-size beaver lodge, a 40-foot tall, man-made, interactive tree, and a mockup of an eagle’s nest where visitors can stand, take selfies with the push of a button, and then email them directly to themselves or others.
child in waterfall at OAC

There are displays on birds and butterflies and an airplane, suspended from the ceiling, like those the DNR uses to conduct aerial surveys of animals or surveillance for wildfires and in which visitors can have a seat.

“We can use the OAC to create messages about conservation issues, such as invasive species, which is the No. 1 threat to natural resources in North America,” Spieles said. “And I hope when people walk out of here, they’ll have learned why they can trust the Department of Natural Resources to provide world-class outdoor recreation facilities and manage the fisheries, forests and wildlife that make this a great state to live in and visit.”

A recent grand-opening event included Gov. Rick Snyder, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and a host of local community activists, dignitaries and even a television star – HGTV’s “Rehab Addict” Nicole Curtis.

Ron Olson, chief of the DNR Parks and Recreation Division, said in his opening remarks that he thought the OAC would serve as a “gateway to the outdoors” for many urbanites, and provide a variety of hands-on experiences.

Gov. Snyder said, “The OAC continues Detroit’s momentum by bringing another natural resource-based experience to the riverfront. The refurbished historic building is a strong symbol of the city’s ongoing revitalization.

“The center is an interactive place for children from across southeast Michigan and across the state to learn about the world-class natural resources and activities our state has to offer, while encouraging the next generation to become responsible environmental stewards.”

Located at 1801 Atwater St., just east of the Renaissance Center, the more-than-a-century-old Globe Building was the site of the former Globe Trading Company. The OAC will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays to Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. More information on hours and admission fees is available here.

The OAC will be used to hold classes on various outdoor recreation activities for youth groups and others, Walter said, and will be available for birthday parties and business meetings. It has already hosted a wedding and several additional couples have booked it for upcoming nuptial ceremonies.

“There are a lot of ways to enjoy it,” Walter said.

To learn more about the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center, visit www.michigan.gov/oac or www.facebook.com/MiOutdoorAdventureCenter.