Ann Arbor has been commonly referenced as the Tree City, mostly due to the city’s dedication to preservation of nature. Everywhere you go you see trees and plenty of greenery, but most people overlook some of the natural attractions that the city has to offer. The University of Michigan manages two fantastically huge nature areas that are open year round, sunrise to sunset, and free of admission. If you’re looking for a good way to kill some time on a nice day, you can ironically escape into nature without leaving the city.
The Matthaei Botanical Gardens are full of trails through decorative gardens and multiple native ecosystems. The gardens are dedicated to environmental stewardship and increasing understanding of the natural world. While it is mostly an educational area, there are plenty of great sights to enjoy. There is a large meandering stream, and several ponds full of wildlife along the trails. There are also great wildflower exhibits, prairies full of native species, and odd pieces of natural art- one being a grass labyrinth for walking in a circular maze and meditating. The gardens are occasionally host to weddings or couples taking wedding pictures. Groundskeepers say, “There is a large collection of plants that you wont normally find all in one place, and we try to keep everything looking good all year. This is one of the nicest gardens in the Southeast Michigan area, if not the whole state.” The visitor center also houses a conservatory with plants from tropical, temperate, and desert regions. The gardens are usually not crowded at all. You are bound to see an employee or two working on the grounds, and a couple of joggers, but for the most part it’s a very quiet environment which makes it easy to enjoy with some company of your own. While they are open year-round, the Matthaei Botanical Gardens are a really unique place to visit when they are in full bloom in the springtime.
The Nichols Arboretum, more commonly referred to as “the Arb,” is one of the coolest local places to hang out in the summertime. Nestled right near the University of Michigan Central Campus and Medical Center, it is a surprisingly peaceful and serene environment. While most of the Midwest is flat and boring, the Arb is full of large hills and valleys, running right up to the Huron River. The landscape was crafted all the way back in 1907, and since then it has been filled with a variety of plants from all over North America. The university likes to call it a 123 acre living museum, however, most of the traffic in the Arb is for recreational purposes. The massive grassy valleys are always full of people tossing around Frisbees, relaxing under shady trees and reading, or simply working on their tan in a secluded area. The trails on changing elevations make it a common place for runners to train. The great scenery makes it a popular place for local high school students to do senior pictures as well. There are many rough trails built into the hills if you happen to be interested in doing some exploring. If you don’t have a map, you may even find yourself lost! Even though it is right in the town, they have done a great job of keeping most surrounding buildings out of sight, so it can be easy to get disoriented. The fact that you feel like you are completely out in the open is what makes it such a great escape though. Even if you aren’t interested in playing around out in the fields, the Arb is truly one of the awesome places to explore in Ann Arbor. Try taking the trail to the highest point at the south side, and you can look out and see the entire North Campus area of the university.
Most cities have some form of natural preservation area, where you can simply relax and enjoy the peace that nature has to offer. Even more densely populated areas will have some parks with gardens and trails. The best part about the outdoors is that it is free! Get out and enjoy the summertime. ~Jack Durham, Regional Director