I moved to Ann Arbor in 2010 from San Francisco, and though not long after my boyfriend Greg and I did spend one of our first dates at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, I had never made it to the city jewel that is affectionately termed the Arb, or more officially named Nichols Arboretum, until last week. I often heard people speak of going for walks at the Arb or checking out the gardens (the Peony Garden is quite popular in early summer), but I never knew what they were talking about or where it was. (I stumbled upon the Matthaei Botanical Gardens via free passes to their Conservatory at the library one day.)
So when my mother asked what I had planned for her visit one Sunday, I was pretty stumped until someone (it might have been Greg) suggested we investigate the Arb. I checked the weather reports online and decided this would be a terrific idea. I also looked up where the Arb was located in relation to Kerrytown so that we could also swing by Catching Fireflies and I could show my mother where my not-so-new-anymore job is. Turns out to be about a 5 minute drive from the Kerrytown and downtown areas, which was perfect.
After picking up some goodies from Catching Fireflies and grabbing some drinks from Sparrow Market, my mom and I plugged in the GPS and headed east. (Driving through Kerrytown is awful, and I don't suggest ever trying it unless you really know where you're going. With its total lack of a grid pattern and streets that randomly become one way for a single block, I still avoid driving there as much as possible.)
The internet (and consequently GPS) led us to the Geddes St entrance, which does not include a parking lot. I remembered the website saying something about this, so after a little circling, I directed my mother to street parking down the road a block or two and around the corner. Parking in Ann Arbor is free on Sundays, and street parking frees up on the weekends in general. (Meaning no more "2 hour parking only" deals that plague me on the weekdays when I am trying to get to work.)
As soon as we entered the Arb and started on the path toward the Huron River, I understood why Ann Arborites were so fond of the place. There is an old grassy river valley with a wide, flat bottom that is perfect for games of Frisbee, picnics, and sunbathing. There are numerous paths to take, and most are well-marked by gravel or wood chips. There are also signs posted with location markers and maps available at the entrances.
We passed a few people on the path and saw more down in the valley relaxing, but it turned out the river was the place to be. Kids and adults both were wading in the swiftly moving shallows, and countless people went by in canoes, kayaks, row boats, and inflatable tubes. I've been warned about the Huron many times and how filthy it is, but the water there looked clean and clear and the temperature was perfect for swimming. It was on a bench along the shore that we had our picnic of turkey sandwiches and yogurt.
We heard an interesting story after we left about an older man who is often seen by the River there. He says he is moving rocks around in the river to form a heart shape. He wants to send a message of love with the flow of the water. We did see a man at water fitting his description, and I did think that the rocks in the river formed an unusually perfect V shape. Maybe that was him and his handiwork.
The Arb isn't as big as the Botanical Gardens, but it's great to have a huge park like this with such varied landscapes right in the city. Nothing grand like Golden Gate, of course, just lovely and spacious and really quite close to my jobs in downtown and Kerrytown. (Probably not walking distance, though.) I'd like to see the Peony Garden next year.