Really, a rich life seems to be all about perspective.
When the Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens Canopy Walk opened in Midland a year ago, architect Alan Metcalfe described the ‘perceived risk’ embedded in many elements of his design: the pulse-quickening but satisfying experience of leaving one’s comfort zone to sample and savor something truly different. That’s perspective.
As high as four stories above the earth, for an elevated distance of 1,400 feet, the Canopy Walk offers what is surely a novel perspective within Dow Gardens’ 54-acre Whiting Forest, but it’s not the only one.
There’s also the foot-cushioned sensation of trodding the special ground-level trail surface that also allows rainfall and snowmelt to follow their natural course into the earth. There are hills to climb up and roll down, a Playground to explore, pond and orchards to ponder. Your legs to stretch on forest trails. Your breath to catch at every thrill or reflective pause.
Aloft or alit, the Canopy Walk, Whiting Forest and Dow Gardens itself offer a year-around menu of novel experiences, a virtual merry-go-round of adventures circling the seasons, a picnic of perspectives.
Canopy Walk Calendar
The three-armed Canopy Walk, the longest such structure in the United States, provides a nature-flanked adventure in any kind of weather. Along the elevated way are stops for experiences delightfully different in each season.
Try savoring the brilliant colors of fall leaves, for example, from reclined suspension in an aerial cargo net. From it, consider Snake Creek, a tumbling waterway more enticing than its name, and restored during the $20 million Canopy Walk construction process.
In spring, pause at the Pond overlook – and don’t be surprised if ducks tumble in, to feed, rest or rear young.
The next generation of butterflies, meanwhile, are likely emerging in the Butterflies in Bloom exhibit within Dow Gardens; it draws not only individuals and families, but a parade of school buses that can appear as numerous as the butterflies themselves!
The Orchard Arm boasts bounty when it bears fruit in late summer and autumn, and proclaims the year’s potential in spring when its trees flower. The four-zone orchard also offers longer perspectives: heritage trees with roots in the past (one tree in particular planted by The Dow Chemical Company founder Herbert Dow himself a century ago), and saplings pledging promise for the future.
Even in winter, when this usually colorful setting becomes a stunning study in black and white, a snow-dusted visit can both stir and soothe the soul, animal tracks flanking visitor trails.
Along a wintry Canopy Walk, wooden pod structures suggest a refreshing pause and break from the elements, while at ground level the Whiting Forest Café promises a cup of hot chocolate or locally roasted Creation Coffee in front of the fire.
The Canopy Walk does close temporarily if winter ice makes a walk there unsafe, but its design makes such shut-downs short. Even in last year’s historic cold and ice, the walk was open far more than it was closed.
Paths & Picnics
Yes, at any time of year, Dow Gardens and its Canopy Walk of Whiting Forest are great places to enjoy a novel perspective, with more than three miles of barrier-free, hard-surfaced pathways. Those are handy, of course, for travel from one feature to another. But don’t neglect the delightful option of merely roaming around amidst the natural beauty – at all seasons, each with its own novel perspective.
Some visitors bring picnics (welcome outdoors), while others duck into Whiting Forest Café for a sandwich or other snack, coffee, tea or cold drink. No pets, please, although service animals are welcome. And while grassy area exploration is encouraged, visitors are asked to leave plants in place.
A Playful Perspective
Sure, the ADA-accessible Playground shrieks with joy in midsummer, when kids of all ages explore the long tunnel, the swift slide, swings, and climb-on and -over delights.
A babbling water feature practically demands that youngsters shed shoes and socks for a splashing good time – and more than a few parents follow that pleasurable example!
But kids seem to know intuitively that fun is not a summer-only thing, and they love to return to sample the Playground’s versions of it in all seasons. Smart adults drop their guard to do the same.
Back to the Garden
Dow Gardens itself comprises a 110-acre display of annual and perennial flowers – 22,000 flowering bulbs and 35,000 annuals.
Those flowers flourish along paved walkways and amidst distinctive bridges, an award-winning children’s garden, a memorializing Rose Garden, towering pines and inspiring water features. The Gardens are also the setting of The Pines, the home of Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow, a National Historic Landmark.
Dow Gardens posts weekly reports on what’s in bloom, and even maintains a Bee Blog with reports on these important pollinators. Summer highlights include a Lunchtime Concert Series, a Pines Concert Series, outdoor movies under the stars, and even golf cart tours of the Gardens.
Gardens aren’t necessarily just for the growing season, either, and Dow Gardens certainly isn’t. A seasonal favorite are its Christmas Walks, with musicians posted along the luminary-lit paths to provide an aural treat matching the visual one. Indoors, there’s a holiday-flavored Poinsettia display in the conservatory.
The Canopy Walk and Dow Gardens are covered by a $20 annual membership or $10 daily admission, $2 daily for kids 6-17 or college students. Several types of private tours of Dow Gardens and Whiting Forest are available by reservation.
Birders of all abilities and expertise are invited to Midland, Michigan for the inaugural Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens Birding Festival.
During the three-day event, September 19-21, attendees will learn from more than 20 distinguished conservationists, researchers, photographers, and environmental educators, on topics such as Kirtland’s Warbler Conservation, raptor identification, and birding by ear.