Peony For Your Thoughts: Fun Activities to Try In Ann Arbor

I think many of us would agree that living in Ann Arbor has some major perks in terms of diverse green spaces and lively events. In celebration of ending the winter semester strong, I want to highlight a selection of natural areas and outdoor events/activities that I’m really looking forward to this spring and summer!

Green Spaces in the Ann Arbor Area

Nichols Arboretum is a well known area of campus that features plenty of native plants and beautiful trees. If you don’t have a car, the Arb is a great way to quickly escape the hustle and bustle of central campus. For those of you who have access to a car or bike, there are some amazing natural areas not too far from campus. Here are some parks and green spaces that I have enjoyed myself or am excited to visit.

Bird Hills Nature Area

Bird Hills was probably my favorite walking spot last summer. It is the largest natural area in Ann Arbor at 146 acres. I have spotted ghost pipes, sweet peas (invasive but beautiful), early meadow rue, elf cup mushrooms, and much more throughout this huge area. There are plenty of winding trails, forested hills, and refreshing resting spots. If you’re looking for a place to take a hike with friends or explore on your own, Bird Hills is the place for you! If you’re hoping to learn some new plant and keep a log of what you see. 

Green undergrowth at Bird Hills Nature Area
Image by Allison Jiang

LeFurge Woods Nature Preserve

I was introduced to LeFurge last summer while going on a hike with BUDS, (Botany Undergrads Doing Stuff) a group that I’ll talk more about as we near the end of the blog! LeFurge is a beautiful spot for viewing wetlands, meadows, native plants, and wildlife. At the right time of day, sometimes the sunlight will filter through the forest canopy to create an almost magical scene. As I mentioned before, this area is also great for finding Trillium! I have never found this area to be too busy, so it’s a great spot for taking a secluded hike or just taking some time away from everyday life. 

A grassy pathway at LeFurge Woods Nature Preserve
Image is from onlyinyourstate.com

Matthaei Botanical Gardens

The conservatory and botanical gardens at Matthaei are wonderful spaces to see and touch plants! My personal favorite area in the gardens is the Great Lakes Garden, which features a wide range of Michigan native plants. The plants in the garden are divided up by region; some of the regions are prairie, alvar, dune, wetlands, and cobble beach. Outside of the gardens, there are a number of woody trails that reveal some beautiful biodiversity. My favorite area of the trials is Dix pond. Last time I was able to visit the pond I was able to spot a couple of painted turtles and lots of bluegill fish. 

An inviting bench at Matthaei Botanical Gardens
Image from mbgna.umich.edu

Mary Beth Doyle Park and Lillie Park

Although I have not visited this park myself, I’ve heard it’s great for recreational activities, like disc golf, basketball, running, and hiking. The area is on the south side of Ann Arbor and features some more isolated wooded areas in addition to some of the open recreational spots within its 84 acres. Lillie park is another natural area nearby and features a couple of calming ponds, trails, and family areas with play structures. 

Flowers blooming in Mary Beth Doyle Park
Image of Mary Beth Doyle Park from a2gov.org
A pond in Lillie Park
Image of Lillie Park from pittsfield-mi.gov

Furstenberg Nature Area

This green space borders the Huron river and is also close to Gallup park. The nature area is 38 acres and features wetlands, prairies, and an oak savanna. I was interested to see on their website that they use controlled burns as a restoration practice. Their website also mentions several frog species that call the area home. I for one am hoping to see some spring peepers and gray tree frogs.

Spring and Summer Events in Nichols Arboretum

Shakespear in the Arb

Welcome the return of “Shakespeare in the Arb”! This summer at Nichols Arboretum, the members of the Residential College will be performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare in the Arb is a two hour outdoor performance that involves the audience moving from different locations in the Arb alongside the performers. For more information about the event, check out the LSA Residential College website. Ticket sales will open on May 16th; more information can be found on the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum website. 

Peony Garden Centennial

Another sight to see this Spring in Nichols Arboretum is the blooming of the peony garden. The peony garden is located right at the Washington Heights entrance near the Reader Center. The best time to visit the garden will be during the first week of June. This year’s bloom is particularly special because it marks the 100 year anniversary of this historic garden! Different flower beds feature unique mixes of blush shades and scented blooms. Don’t forget to also take a look at the Rhododendron shrubs, tree peonies, and wild strawberries outlining the south side of the main garden area. 

A blooming peony
Image by Allison Jiang
The Peony Garden in bloom
Image from mbgna.umich.edu

Fun Student Activities/Groups

BUDS 

Maybe you’re thinking, “I really love being outside but I just really wish there was a group of nature loving people whom I could learn and share botanical knowledge with” Well! I think I know a club that might be perfect for you. “Botany Undergrads Doing Stuff” or “BUDS” is a recently revived organization that fosters the interests of anyone with a fondness for the outdoors (you do not have to know anything about botany or even be an undergraduate student to get involved). This past year, BUDS has hosted a number of events, such as nature walks in the arboretum, seed collection at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, tours of native plant nurseries, an invasive species removal, and a social potluck at the caretaker’s cottage in the arboretum. If you were at the most recent Harvest Festival, you may have seen BUDS tablings alongside some other student organizations and community groups. 

BUDS table at Harvest Festival
Images taken by BUDS members and shared in the GroupMe
BUDS out for a hike

If you’re interested in joining, contact Chad Machinksi through the BUDS email: budsumich@gmail.com.

There are monthly newsletters that feature recent and upcoming BUDS events, botanical information, member written excerpts, and other opportunities about nature work and volunteering. There is also a GroupMe where you can arrange rides to different events, ask botanical questions, share environmental job postings, recommend books, and more! Happy hiking.

Friends of the Campus Farm

If you’re interested in getting more involved with the campus farm this summer, consider joining Friends of the Campus Farm! The growing season will be picking up speed soon and there will be more opportunities to volunteer. The majority of the volunteer days will be in the summer on Fridays. Friends of the Campus Farm supports different volunteering events and encourages student connections to sustainable food and education. If you’re interested in getting involved, contact farm.core@umich.edu for more information!

Planet Blue Student Leader Podcast

The Planet Blue Student Leaders also have an incredible podcast! The PBSL Podcast is on Spotify, and they released a recent episode called “Recreation and Business in Ann Arbor” where they talk about Nichols Arboretum, the Kerrytown farmers market, different flavors of mead, composting, and some recycling updates in Ann Arbor! Make sure to give it a listen if you’re interested in hearing about some more fun activities in the Ann Arbor area (spoiler: drinking mead and canoeing is not one of them!).

Decorative image of PBSL Podcast logo

Speaking of the Planet Blue Student Leaders, I asked everyone in the PBSL program what they enjoy doing in the spring and summer time, and they did not disappoint! Here is a list of some more activities to get involved with as the weather warms up:

  • Creating an enclosed ecosystem 
  • Smelling the sunshine and admiring the tulips
  • Picnics at Riverside park
  • Planting wildflowers for bumble bees
  • Hammocking 
  • Volunteering for local watershed councils
  • Taking walks in the Arb
  • Kayaking 
  • Swimming
  • Farm workshares 
  • Nature theme games like stardew valley and animal crossing
  • Helping Ann Arbor’s Natural Area Preservation with their photo monitoring program

Hopefully this blog helped inspire some excitement for spring and summer and provided a few ways to give yourself a break as we approach the end of the semester. 

If you know of any other parks or beautiful spots in Ann Arbor that we didn’t mention, please  comment them down below! We would also love to know what your favorite spring/summer activities are.

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