Paved trail connecting Matthaei to campus gets boost from MDOT


The dream of creating a paved, two-mile bike and walking path to help link Matthaei Botanical Gardens to Central Campus is expected to become reality next year.

The 10-foot-wide trail will make it easier for hundreds of students accessing the Matthaei Botanical Gardens area to get to study and work areas.

The Michigan Department of Transportation recently announced a conditional commitment of nearly $1.2 million toward construction of the trail — provided other entities including U-M can raise a matching amount to complete the nearly $2.5 million project.

“It creates a safe, non-motorized option to Central and North Campus for the University of Michigan. And for the local and state government entities it’s a critical strategic connector to Washtenaw County, to the Border to Border trail and Parker Mill County Park (both south of Matthaei), and to the governor’s (statewide) Iron Belle Trail,” says Karen Sikkenga, Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum associate director.

The trail winds through several ecosystems. Travelers will see forests, hills and wildlife including butterflies, and the trail should be excellent for birders. “We’re hoping to build it by end of next season, in 2016,” Sikkenga says.

While MBGNA has long sought to establish the trail, efforts stepped up a year and a half ago. That’s when a student intern was injured by a car, while riding a bike along Dixboro Road.

“We already had started advocating for the trail, but that encouraged a strong sense of urgency because we really want our students to be safe,” Sikkenga says.

The trail project provides a great example of what governments can do to make something happen when they agree on a goal. While U-M owns the land, only local governments are eligible to receive certain construction grants.

“It’s exciting how many different funding sources there are, and how this project aligns the strategic priorities of so many different constituents,” Sikkenga says. She says collaboration between U-M and Ann Arbor Township was key.

Ann Arbor Township Supervisor Michael Moran agrees: “The combined efforts of Ann Arbor Township and the University of Michigan will result in a trail project far better than either of us could have accomplished alone.”

U-M will coordinate trail design and pay contractors, with help from a $50,000 donation from Ann Arbor Township. Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation is contributing $250,000, and Ann Arbor Township has requested $300,000 from the state Department of Natural Resources. U-M also is providing public access to its land for the trail, and $600,000 in help is being solicited from corporate neighbors and individual donors, Sikkenga says.

The 10-foot-wide sturdy bituminous trail with 2-foot shoulders, following MDOT specifications, will be sturdy “and won’t get potholes quickly,” Sikkenga says. It will strictly be for non-motorized use — including bikes, strollers, walkers and hikers; no snowmobiles.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens administrators say plans are in the works to open in 2016 a two-mile paved trail to Matthaei that will make travel easier for students and the public. (Photo by Don Hammond)


  1. Kurt Richardson
    on April 6, 2015 at 9:42 am

    The map doesn’t show the new trail connecting to the Border-to-Border Trail. It shows it stopping at Geddes Road, near Parker Mill Park. I don’t see how that will make it easier for students and the “public” to get to Central Campus. Seems like it is more like a more scenic way to get to Geddes Road.

    • Kent Purdy
      on April 6, 2015 at 10:45 am

      I ride my bike that way home every day during the summer. It is very dangerous; there are no bike lanes and no shoulder most of the way down Dixboro, with cars going very fast. Once you get down to Geddes there is already a very nice bike trail that goes from where this trail ends, under Geddes and through Parker Mill park, and meets up with the trail that goes through Gallup park. It would be perfect if they would put in a bike trail through Nichols Arb at the other end. Otherwise you end up going up Fuller into town.

      • Phillip Farber
        on April 6, 2015 at 11:26 am

        I agree with Kent’s points above. We are missing an opportunity by not connecting trails. Trail and bike lane development is piecemeal, lacks connectivity, and discourages trail use as a transportation option for commuting cyclists. This situation pushes the more experienced cyclists onto the roadway, placing them in greater danger and completely discourages beginning riders, all of whom would use a well connected trail system to get from A to B given an adequate system. Where is the overarching planning?

        Another point is that for these systems to be useful for commuters they have to be maintained in the winter months. The perception is that no one would use a bike trail in the colder months therefore ice and snot removal is not required. This is not true. Except for the more extreme conditions, there are many cyclists who would continue to use the system if it were maintained in riding condition. Has planning for winter maintenance been factored into the development of this trail system?

  2. Eric Boyd
    on April 8, 2015 at 8:03 am

    The trail will connect to the end of the county’s Parker Mill Trail (which ends at the NE corner of Geddes and Dixboro). Following the Parker Mill Trail takes you down to the B2B trail. There was a detailed map published on the pages, but I’m not finding it now.

  3. Tanisha Frederick
    on April 19, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    I will continue to look for a response to the comment asking for the details on what is the plan for winter maintenance to the paved trail.

    • Steve Perrin
      on May 7, 2015 at 7:49 am

      Here’s an easy answer – cross country skis!

  4. Steve Perrin
    on May 7, 2015 at 7:46 am

    The path is going to be a real boon to the public, but it’s bittersweet. There was already a well established trail through the woods from Parker Mill most of the way to Matthaei. It was a fun and beautiful ride on a bike, and you almost felt like it was your own little secret. I rode it last weekend, and they have already started clearing for the pathway. It was sad to see the encroachment of “development,” but overall it will be a definite benefit for outdoor recreation.

  5. Vincent Caruso
    on July 4, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    It would be great if you could publish the new established trail map when its finished, look forward to using it regularly. Long over due for students without cars or want to bike, and others who would like to bike to MBGNA. Great resource.

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