Some come to the unused buildings of the former Northville Regional Psychiatric Hospital seeking a spooky thrill, others to check out the urban ruins of Detroit. Still others look to gather scrap to sell from the site.
Regardless of the reason, however, one thing is certain.
"It's trespassing," Northville Township Public Safety Director John Werth said. "And it's unsafe."
The number of trespassers caught and cited at the Seven Mile property for all of 2011 was 213. This year, from January through October, that number is already more than 500, Werth said.
There are dozens of buildings on the property and the colorful spray paint tags left by visiting trespassers covers the walls. Broken glass is strewn about the floors, crunching beneath the feet of visitors. Some areas are so dark you couldn't see your hand in front of you even in the daylight.
To combat the lure of websites and urban lore attracting visitors, Northville Township police have stepped up their patrol and enforcement efforts, especially in October when Halloween-inspired thrill-seekers swarm the property.
"It is a challenge for us to do it, but we’re managing the challenge," Werth said. "It is dangerous to be around abandoned buildings."
Seven Mile property on the web
There are about 20 buildings on the site. The remnants of the main building, activities buildings, dorms and more are located around the 349-acre property, which is owned by the township.
Online, it takes a simple search of YouTube to see that trespassers are proud of the images they've captured of the property. There are clips of scenes from various areas, including the old bowling alley, tunnels and more.
One website, which features photos of the property's buildings, has a different purpose. DetroitUrbex.com is a site that presents images of the property as art.
According to the website, it aims "to raise awareness of the social and economic challenges the city of Detroit faces through photography."
On another page, the site's creator warns: "We show you these pictures because Northville Hospital has a rich, fascinating history as a monument to a bygone way of treating society’s illnesses, not to encourage trespassing."
Still, such websites may serve to entice more trespassers to the property, which worries local police.
"The websites do not help, the Facebook pages do not help," Werth said. "It is a challenge to (the) public safety department."
Police respond to increased trespassing with heightened security
One of the incidents that reminds Werth of just how dangerous the property is occurred more than four years ago.
A man and his friend entered one of the buildings, carrying a gun just in case there was trouble, Werth said. One of the men dropped his gun and accidentally shot himself in the leg. It had to be amputated.
"People are scared when they go there. Some people take weapons," he said. "You never know who you’re going to run into. You never know what their motive is when you’re out there."
Werth said that the worry is when people go alone and are injured.
Throughout the month of October, there is heightened security. Officials declined to go into specifics to avoid helping trespassers make it onto the property without getting caught.
Special patrols help protect the property and that's a good thing for the township, township Supervisor Chip Snider said.
"It's an attractive nuisance that is discovered by curious people," he said.
The township is working on getting the buildings torn down as part of a large $82.6 million project.
To protect the property in the meantime, the township has discussed building a fence, but Snider said that may not eliminate the problem. Another option could be to install cameras to alert dispatch to the presence of trespassers, but that is not an immediate plan for the township.
Soon, though, he said, security will increase even further as the University of Michigan constructs its new medical building on the site. He said he hopes the increased activity will dissuade would-be trespassers from entering the property.
The penalty for trespassing is an automatic visit to the 35th District Court in Plymouth. Trespassing violations carry a maximum 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $500, Werth said.
"We have a zero tolerance policy for trespassers," he said.