ANN ARBOR - The Matthaei Botanical Gardens Trail, a paved, two-mile hiking and biking path connecting the botanical gardens with a network of trail systems throughout the area, opens to the public Saturday.
The trail provides a non-motorized link from the gardens to Washtenaw County's Parker Mill Park to the south, with connections to the regional Border-to-Border Trail, the local Gallup Park pathway, the University of Michigan's Nichols Arboretum and Central Campus. The trail also provides a safer travel route that parallels but avoids Dixboro Road, a busy Washtenaw County artery with a narrow shoulder inadequate for safe biking or walking.
A map of the new trail (Photo: University of Michigan)
The original donors of the land were the Matthaei family, and members of that family were major donors to the trail. The land the Matthaeis donated became the gardens, Radrick Golf Course and the grounds of the U-M Adventure Leadership Program. On its way to Parker Mill Park, the path crosses parts of the three university properties.
Beyond local trail systems, the pathway expands on existing non-motorized connections to U-M's Medical Center and Central and North campuses, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, Eastern Michigan University and Ypsilanti, Concordia University and Washtenaw County Community College, as well as public transportation to these destinations.
The two-mile paved path opens to the public on Oct. 14 (Photo: University of Michigan)
According to associate director of Matthaei Nichols, Karen Sikkenga, transportation connections to U-M's campus fueled by human power alone are central to the botanical gardens and arboretum's strategic goals for a number of reasons. Those include safety, health and a lighter carbon footprint.
"Currently, more than 135,000 visitors each year carpool, ride a bike or drive a car to get to Matthaei. The new trail will allow them to leave their cars safely behind," she said.
At the moment, there are no university or city bus options to the botanical gardens, so the trail will benefit U-M students and staff who wish to visit Matthaei.
The entrance to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens (Photo: Scott Soderberg)
The completed trail caps a multiyear collaboration between U-M and Ann Arbor Township along with other government entities, businesses and individuals. The trail is located entirely within Ann Arbor Township, and travels over land owned by the university. U-M involvement included Athletics; Student Life; Department of Public Safety and Security; Government Relations; Office of the General Counsel; Office of the Provost; Parking and Transportation; and others.
A majority of the funding for the trail comes from federal, local and state government grants. Washtenaw County Parks, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Ann Arbor Township and Department of Transportation (State of Michigan and SE Council of Governments) together provided more than $2.5 million for the trail construction. In addition to these grants, more than 125 individuals and businesses contributed almost $800,000 toward the trail.
As the landowner, U-M granted an easement for the trail. Because funding sources for a public infrastructure project of this scope were available only to local government bodies, not to universities, the Ann Arbor Township was the sole entity eligible to receive grants. Township supervisor Mike Moran provided key advocacy and fundraising assistance, and township trustees helped with significant direct funding.
"It's an excellent example of what can be accomplished when the township, the university, county government, state government, local corporate entities and citizens work together to achieve a common goal," Moran said.
The broader circle of supportive stakeholders includes the botanical gardens' corporate neighbors Toyota and NSF, as well as nearly 150 individual donors, including the Matthaei family in honor of Fred Matthaei Jr. and his son Fred Matthaei III. The botanical gardens itself provided the catalyst funding for the project.
One of the most important benefits the trail provides is another healthy and more sustainable alternative to driving, said Matthaei-Nichols director Bob Grese.
"We're looking forward to how the trail will connect people with Matthaei Botanical Gardens and with other trail systems throughout the area," he said. "Just as important, we're all about connecting people with nature, which is what this path will achieve for walkers and bikers as they make their way along the trail. Any opportunity we have to get outside and move is a chance to immerse ourselves in nature and experience its powerful benefits."
The trail opens officially to the public Saturday, Oct. 14, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. near the U-M Campus Farm off the south entrance to the botanical gardens on Dixboro Road. The ceremony is free and open to the public.
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