Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens
After years of anticipation, Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens in Midland Michigan, USA, reopened to the public on October 7, 2018. A 1,400-foot canopy walk—the longest in the nation—overlooks 54 acres of forest trails, ponds, meadows, and an apple orchard with the walk’s highest point being 40 feet above the ground.
The opening is the culmination of four years of planning, construction, and a $20 million investment that embodies the legacy of giving by The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation.
Metcalfe Architecture and Design spoke to Premier Construction about their work on the project:
How did the project come about?
“The project began in 2015. The vision was championed by Mike Whiting, President of the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, and his wife Sara. They had seen the Tree Adventure at the University of Pennsylvania’s Morris Arboretum we had designed and liked how unusual it was.”
What did the project involve?
“A nature-play design comprising a dynamic network of bridges, paths, and tree canopy walkways populated with engaging gathering points and interactive features, Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens offers a close-up, four-season experience of the 54-acre forest of native northern pine from a variety of unexpected vantage points.
“On the journey through the woods, visitors encounter a series of ‘right-brained’ experiences involving a progression of open fields and dark forests. People are not constrained to staying on trails; the more they wander, the closer they get to nature and opportunities for introspection.
“A 1,400-foot-long tree canopy walk (the longest in the US), is the central attraction of the forest. With three ‘arms’ winding over a pond and apple orchards and through the forest, the canopy walk provides a one-of-a-kind vantage point from 40 feet above the ground as it draws visitors through the woodland. Along the walk, expansive cargo nets stretched between trees create places for visitors to walk, jump, and sprawl safely above the forest floor, while walk-in slatted-wood pavilions in abstracted forms of nests and pods offer shelter and act as settings for reflection, discussion, and observation.
“Other features of Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens include a new 13,600-square-foot playground with a sandy beach, flowing water, and child-scaled play structures; the Visitor Center, a restored and repurposed midcentury residence by architect Alden B. Dow; Whiting Forest Café; an amphitheater; and the Forest Classroom, a facility for hosting workshops, seminars, and programs.”
How important is this project to the company, does it reflect what you stand for?
“We are very happy to have conveyed the client’s childhood experiences of climbing trees and playing in nature and fulfilled his wish to bring this kind of experience to others.
“This active, participatory environment is an architectural antidote to the over-reliance on virtual, screen-centric life that people today typically experience. In a world of technology that sometimes makes us more divided, we work to design places that bring people together outdoors and in nature for purposeful interaction. Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens is a great example of that philosophy.”
What will this project mean to the community and visitors?
“People come together throughout the entire site and engage in a variety of experiences and activities. We set up as many opportunities as possible, from gathering at the apple orchard to eat, to meeting in the amphitheater, to walking over the bridge together. On the three arms of the canopy walk, we intended to make three different experiences.
“It’s about being together and being physically active: to having overnight stays in the pond arm, to reaching out to the more unsettled areas of the forest, to sitting and contemplating around the fire pit.
“The feedback from visitors been great! 30,000 people attended the opening weekend. The site previously had about 20,000 annual visitors.”