WRITER | LISA CAMPBELL
Building Community: Rise Above a Wintry Wonderland at Whiting Forest’s Canopy Walk
A quintessential winter wonderland located above an outdoor botanical garden may be a surprising destination during Michigan’s frosty wintertime, but the snow-covered Whiting Forest on the campus of Dow Gardens in Midland invites visitors to explore the nation’s longest canopy walk every month of the year.
Whiting Forest features 54 acres of woodlands, an apple orchard, meadows, ponds and streams. Guests immerse themselves in the forest along trails, two pedestrian bridges and a spectacular canopy walk of 1,400 feet. Most of Whiting Forest’s trails are designed to be accessible for all ages and abilities are open in every season.
The canopy walk consists of three arms, each boasting a unique viewing platform. One overlooks vistas of a forest pond from 25 feet high, another gives a unique view of a spruce tree grove through a cargo net perched 25 feet above. An orchard view from a platform made entirely of glass is suspended 40 feet in the air, marking the highest point of the overlook. With its see-through floors and walls on platforms, visitors often feel as if they’re floating above the ground.
During the winter months, when the landscape has given up much of its color, there’s still plenty of green to be seen along the canopy walk and along the trails in Whiting Forest. Stately conifers put on a spectacular show all year long. The massive Japanese white pines can grow up to 90 feet tall and are adorned with green, often-twisted needles, and reddish-brown cones.
Visitors can enjoy the peaceful quiet of winter amid snow-covered landscapes and stunning winter horticulture. Landscape enthusiastis can make note of the plants that are colorful additions to winter landscapes and begin year-round planning for spring planting in their own yards.
Ornamental grasses, plants and unique trees with interesting bark provide surprising sources of color, adding vibrance to the trail. Multihued stems of lemon-colored yellow twig dogwood and red twig dogwood provide a bright contrast to the snowy landscape. Japanese Pieris provide year-round interest. An evergreen shrub in the same family as rhododendron, Japanese Pieris boasts attractive buds all winter, followed by pendulous white flowers in April.
In late winter, explorers will discover the emergence of true harbingers of spring, such as snowdrop and vernal witch hazel.
“Our visitors can experience a full spectrum of what a public garden experience can be,” Elizabeth Lumbert, director of Dow Gardens, says. “The impact of the accessible forest experience allows everyone to journey thoughtfully into the woods.”
To give everyone, regardless of their abilities, a chance to experience nature during the winter, Dow Gardens staff members work tirelessly to keep 3.1 miles of ADA-accessible hard-surface pathway clear of snow and ice. Because Michigan’s weather can be unpredictable, caution is always advised on any trail.
After a brisk walk through the forest, a cozy fireplace welcomes visitors to Whiting Forest Cafe. The cafe serves pastries, soups, coffee, and grab-and-go fare. An added benefit: it’s not crowded this time of year.
Visitors should note that there is an approximately .7-mile walk from the main visitor center to the canopy walk and cafe. Special parking accommodations can be made for those with accessibility limitations. Call 989-631-2677 to reserve parking at the education center.
A Brief History
The first piece of Whiting Forest property was acquired in 1905 by Herbert H. Dow, the founder of the Dow Chemical Company, and his wife Grace. Whiting Forest was opened to the public in 2004, with a grand reopening in October 2018. Dow Gardens is a signature gift of The Herbert H. and Grace A Dow Foundation, as the family shares the estate with the community and its visitors. Dow Gardens welcomes thousands of guests per year to the 110-acre property that also features a historic building, an award-winning children’s garden, delightful water features and more. Visit dowgardens.org/forest to learn more.
Dow Gardens | 1809 Eastman Ave | Midland, MI 48640 | 800-362-4874