Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens – Midland, Michigan

Isaac Kremer/ August 24, 2019/ architecture, path, placemaking/ 0 comments

The Whiting Forest and their canopy walk are a relatively new addition to the much loved Dow Gardens. So popular, in fact, that my two boys insisted going not once or twice in a single week while visiting – but three separate times. I was lucky they brought me along for the third and final visit. Here is what we saw.

The welcome center and cafe cheerfully greeted us in with its updated rustic lodge feel. The wide open front gable, red painted roof beam ends, and the use of natural stone, exposed wood, and lush plantings all offer a warm welcome to visitors.

After a short walk we headed to the ramp leading us to the canopy. The rise was fairly gentle and most portions accessible for anyone.

Among the boys favorite features was a nest. This was suspended from a concrete footing that allowed it to sway from side to side slightly. The only way to access the nest was from a rope bridge that needed to be crossed from the canopy walk. Once inside the nest had two levels, with the lower accessible by rope ladder. On the lower level the boys enjoyed making the nest and every one in it gently sway by applying some pressure to the structure.

The photo above shows the simple low impact way the structure connected with the tree. Among the many stories told to visitors was how only six trees had to be taken down as part of the construction of the canopy walk and related structures.

At the furthest extent of the walk where it opened up, we were greeted by this beautiful view – made all the more serene with the reflection of the trees on the water. This was a man-made pond, perhaps for use as a water source. I didn’t quite get the full story.

Me and the boys enjoying the view.

At another end is what the boys called the spider’s web. This was basically netting suspended over a frame where people could hang out, rough house, or lay down hammock-like over 40 feet above the ground. Not for everyone but somehow we managed to find some ways to have fun.

Back down to earth there was a seating area overlooking the play area. I took this photo to record one of at least three different kinds of chairs and tables I saw deployed. No one was ever sitting in these while we visited, though they did evoke a sort of rustic woven tree branch look even though they were made with a coated metal.

The playground had contemporary play equipment, artificial turf covered mounds to run over, water features, and some elements that tied into what we found on the canopy walk – such as the egg shape structure partially covered in wood shingles. Overall it made for a fun play area both for very young kids and also my boys who were 8 and 10. It was hard to pull them away when the time came to go. Always a good sign

Noticed these tables that seemed a bit oddly placed. Perhaps they intended to have slightly higher bar stools to go alongside them? In their present configuration, however, these tables really did not serve much function than being interesting to view lined up in a row.

These were the standard chair and tables on the porch of the welcome center overlooking the play area. The ergonomic design and arms were so comfortable that I saw several people sitting in them for 30 minutes or more. Want people to sit a long time? Give them a comfortable chair. Want them to move quickly? Make the chair uncomfortable.

Back inside the welcome center was a third and final chair design – this one being a bit more modern. Interestingly again, never observed anyone sitting in these. Could be because to the eye they did not look that familiar or comfortable. Added an interesting sculptural element, however, that was reminiscent of a bird’s nest or canopy of branches. I also liked the shadows they cast on the ground.

Finally, as we were leaving in the breezeway were postings about upcoming programming and events. This was a good way to remind people as they were going in and out about the offerings at Whiting Forest. I especially liked the sign holder, and the use of a large visual retractable banner to highlight the upcoming Birding Festival.

It’s evident why in the short time it has been open that this has become a much loved place by many.

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About Isaac Kremer

Isaac Kremer is a transformational leader with a track record of success revitalizing downtowns in the United States. He has written and spoken extensively. He's always on the lookout for new and innovative ideas to unlock the potential of downtown areas.

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