Explore: Dow Gardens Whiting Forest Canopy Walk in Midland

Explore: Dow Gardens Whiting Forest Canopy Walk in Midland

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Oct. 2, 2018)

Midland, MI- “There is a perceived sense of danger. Perceived is the key,” said Mike Whiting, President of the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation of the new canopy walk at Whiting Forest in Dow Gardens. “There’s an adrenaline rush to attract people to the forest, but once they get here it draws them out to the fresh air and the beauty of the forest.”

The canopy walk opens to the public Oct. 7 and features a 1,400 foot long elevated walkway that takes visitors through the treetops, to platforms overlooking woods and meadows, and to places where nets separate them from the ground over 20 feet below.  The peak is 40 feet off the ground with a glass bottomed section where folks can look down at the treetops below.

It’s believed to be the longest canopy walk in the United States, a project that adds to the attractiveness of Midland both to visitors, and to quality workers for the various industries and professions in the area.  Dow – the company, the foundation and the family – are known for investing in the community.  Whiting is the great grandson of the foundation’s namesakes.  He grew up in the mid century modern house that now serves as the visitor’s center.

“One of my former bedrooms is now a public rest room,” he said.  “I’m getting over this.”  The house was designed by a great uncle and has been added on to over the years. The theater room of the visitor’s center used to be the living room of the home, where Whiting and his family would gather around the fire and view the surrounding forest from a wall made nearly entirely of glass.

Though full of little details, one that stands out most is a thick wooden door that resembles a patchwork quilt. It is made from pieces of wood brought home from adventures all around the world.  An interactive display allows people to touch a screen and see the history of each piece.

At a press preview day on Monday, Whiting talked about the joy of being able to explore in the woods as a child, and his pride in being able to make the space more inviting for others.  “We want to get people out in the woods.  It’s good for your soul,” he said.  “We spend so much time on our phones, on video games.”

The canopy walk is joined by a freshly planted apple orchard featuring multiple types of apples, as well as a 100 year old Mother Apple tree planted by Herbert Dow himself.  “Dow Chemical got it’s start because of my great grandfathers love of apple trees and his work finding ways to help them grow,” Whiting said.

There is also a fenced in kid’s play area, with immersive learning experiences including waterfalls, a tunnel, and a hill with a giant pretend bird’s nest at the top that children can climb into.  Next to the playground is a new cafe featuring soups and sandwiches, as well as Michigan-made Faygo soda pop.

Architect Alan Metcalfe spoke about the safety of the project and encouraged people to jump up and down on the walkway to feel it sway.  Orange metal rods line parts of the path, and they clink together for subtle background noise while the walk is in heavy use.

The netted areas actually have three layers or netting, both for extra safety and catch cellphones and keys that may fall out of people’s pockets while they climb.

The space is also designed with communication in mind.  Pockets of space allow for mingling and there is seating along the way.  Only six trees were removed to put this project in place, and the wood from those trees was used to create elevated pods where people can gather to chat.

“The average time at a museum exhibit is five minutes,” Metcalf said.  “The average stay in areas here is 70 minutes.”

A less obvious feature – to adults at least – is the addition of three small hills on the ground level.  “This used to be flat,” he said.  “Adults don’t notice, but kids know what to do.  They see hills and they want to climb them. They want to roll down. It’s just what kids instinctively do.”

His hope in those subtle design features is to bring out the youthful spirit in guests of all ages. “You think back to what it’s like to be a kid,” he said.  “Ninety percent of adults can’t remember what it’s like.”

Whiting Forest is located at 2203 Eastman Ave, Midland, MI 48640.  It opens to the public Oct. 7 and will remain open year-round.  Learn more at http://www.dowgardens.org/whitingforest.

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