Ann Arbor offers some refreshing choices for enjoying nature in and around the city. Visit Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Nichols Arboretum or a local nature center – or take a fun canoe trip down the Huron River. The city offers a total of 550 canoes, one and two-person kayaks, tubes and rafts for rental, and according to parks officials, around 70,000 visitors paddle the river each year. “We’re a busy operation,” says Recreation Supervisor Cheryl Saam. “You don’t need reservations. We make it super easy and affordable for everyone.”
The Huron River is surrounded by parkland on both sides, making it a beautiful corridor for river travelers. The most popular trip begins at Argo Park and ends at Gallup Park, a 1.5-hour ride. A van will take you back to the top. Rides along the Huron are mostly calm and gentle. Argo Cascades was added three years ago and includes rapids, rock chutes and pools bypassing the dam.
Some people just like to float and lazily paddle around for a while. “About half of the people do stillwater paddling,” Cheryl says. “It’s more like paddling on a long skinny lake.” The Argo and Gallup liveries opened mid-April. There are many wonderful parks programs coming up. Bird walks led by an ornithologist at Gallup Park are planned for May 15 and June 6. A teen kayaking class is set for July 9 for ages 12-17, pre-registration required.
Nature centers are fun for families to explore. Thurston Nature Center can be found in the city’s northeast section and has walking trails surrounding the pond. The community there is raising thousands of dollars to restore this pond, remove non-native species and improve its biodiversity. The Leslie Science & Nature Center is located on the city’s north side and has a mile-loop trail along with birds of prey and several critter exhibits that kids will love. The Center has a busy schedule of summer events to check out.
Favorite outdoor destinations are Nichols Arboretum and Matthaei Botanical Gardens, both run by U-M. The Gardens are off campus but near Downtown, whereas the Arboretum is on campus by the U-M Hospital.
At Matthaei Botanical Gardens, visitors can hike through a number of different ecosystems, including prairie, wetland and forest. The Great Lakes Gardens recreate five habitats of the Great Lakes and feature many interesting native plants. “Some of the habitats, such as alvar or limestone plain, exist in only a few places in the world,” says Joe Mooney, Communications Manager. Matthaei also has a bonsai and penjing garden, as well as a Children’s Garden. The perennial garden and Gateway Garden with its beautiful annuals are popular wedding spots.
Nichols Arboretum, known as “The Arb,” is a beloved wooded escape for students and locals. The Arb is home to several spring and summer events including Shakespeare in the Arb, Run for the Arb and Opera in the Arb. In May and June, visitors will want to check out the Peony Garden, the largest collection of herbaceous heirloom peonies in North America. Several educational programs are scheduled for kids to enjoy. Parking is limited to street meters and some nearby University lots are free on weekends and after 5pm on weekdays. Admission to both the Botanical Gardens and Arboretum is free. ♦
Ann Arbor is proud to be a bike friendly town. ArborBike is a bike share program that currently has six stations Downtown and near campus with more on the way. The service is intended for city bike trips lasting under an hour. It provides three-speed durable bikes that have adjustable seats, a bell, and front and rear lights which automatically light up when you pedal. You can get a one-day membership at any ArborBike kiosk or sign up online for annual and monthly memberships. Cyclists can also bring their own bikes to explore a network of mountain bike trails in Olson Park and check out Bluffs Nature Area or the Border-to-Border Trail which follows the Huron River.
Here are a few springtime events:
• Hanging Basket & Container Sale & Fundraiser at Matthaei, May 9 & 10
• Kitchen Favorites Sale & Fundraiser at Matthaei featuring herbs and heirloom veggies, May 16 & 17
• Peonies Galore Sale & Fundraiser at the Arb, May 30
• Peony Blossoms & Pure Melodies, a free concert of Chinese flower songs at the Arb, June 7
• Shakespeare in the Arb Thursdays through Sundays June 4-28, where actors and the audience move to different locations in the Arb as the scenes change.