The Matthaei Botanical Gardens Trail, a paved, 2-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 nonmotorized 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, and 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.
The original donor of the land was the Matthaei family, and family members were major donors for the trail. The land the Matthaeis donated became the gardens, Radrick Farms Golf Course and the grounds of the U-M Adventure Leadership Program. On its way to Parker Mill Park, the path crosses parts of these three university properties.
Beyond local trail systems, the pathway expands on existing nonmotorized connections to U-M’s Medical, 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.
Transportation connections to U-M’s campus that are fueled by human power alone are central to the botanical gardens and arboretum’s strategic goals for a number of reasons, says Karen Sikkenga, associate director of Matthaei-Nichols. Those include safety, health and a lighter carbon footprint.
“We’re united with our neighbors in the leadership program and golf course in valuing the environmental and personal health benefits of being outdoors,” she said.
As the number of visitors to the gardens increases each year, nonmotorized options become even more important, Sikkenga says.
“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.
Currently, 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 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; Division of Public Safety and Security; Government Relations; Office of the General Counsel; Office of the Provost; Logistics, Transportation and Parking; 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, the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments provided more than $2.5 million for the trail construction. Additionally, 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, 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 National Science Foundation, 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.”