Blog: Anya Dale

Anya Dale loves her job but wishes she could do it in jeans. She is a Planner with Washtenaw County Office of Strategic Planning, serves on the city's Environmental Commission and chairs the Transportation Committee. She also knows how to care for African fruit bats. Anya will be writing about  A2's downtown, plans for the Huron River and the Washtenaw Ave portal.

Anya Dale - Post 2: Playing Up The Huron

Many cities are well known for their ability to attract residents, businesses and tourists with their natural landscapes, from Boulder’s 200 miles of multi-use trails to Eugene, Oregon with its Class II-III Willamette River. 

In southeast Michigan, it might be easy to feel like we don't have much in the way of bragging rights for significant natural features. Granted, we have no mountains or ocean coast, but there are some pretty significant systems that don't get the hype they deserve. Ann Arbor, in particular, has a relatively untapped potential for being an outdoor recreation mecca.

Ann Arbor has over 2,000 acres of City Parks alone, many of them with hiking trails. We have over 5 miles of river through the heart of downtown connecting to many of the regions parks. One of my favorite Saturday jaunts involves a hike through four parks. Individually each might only provide a couple miles of trails, but a bit of an adventurous attitude (or the help of online aerial photos or maps) uncovers how many of the parks in the area link to each other with little more than a road to cross. The Border to Border Trail which follows the river through town can also easily become a day trip on foot, or a good afternoon bike ride at least.

Unfortunately, most people really don’t know what is out there. There are bike path maps and park maps, but none both comprehensive and with enough detail to show how trails within and between are easily interconnected into a longer trip. Ann Arbor's 2,000 acres of parks is impressive; the ability to "build-your-own" hike through a park and trail system would be remarkable. Of course, this would require a bit of technical mapping skill, as well as public outreach, but resources are available for both.

We also haven't properly promoted having something out of the ordinary. The communities which have made a name for themselves based on their parks or rivers generally have done something bold to elevate them. 

Madison, Wisconsin has parks within city limits where you can set up camp, with racks of free firewood leftover from park maintenance. My heart is all a flutter just writing of it. 

Kayakers know Denver for its Confluence Park, a downtown whitewater run. The park also has a positive impact on the nearby economy. As a recognized recreation center in an urban space, outdoor recreation stores, kayak and bike rentals, condos and outdoor bistros are all blooming within a short walk. 

While Ann Arbor certainly has the goods to compete with these cities, many residents and tourists alike lack the ability to conceptualize the immense potential of these parks on account of our uninspired marketing approach. 

For example, our river which is arguably one of Ann Arbor’s greatest assets is repeatedly interrupted by dams and mostly hidden behind industrial, office and research buildings. I can't express how important it is that new development or redeveloped properties along the river encourage a connection from nearby streets and neighborhoods to the waterfront, rather than hiding it.  An opportunity to play up the Huron also exists in the recent discussion on potentially removing the Argo dam to return the river to its normal flow.  Obviously there is a lot to consider, yet it seems to me most avid outdoor adventurers would be attracted to a more natural, consistent and faster flowing river with a few whitewater segments. 

These are just a few of many ways to showcase what we have, from simple things like improved trail mapping to implementing grander visions for the Huron River. The most important thing is to embrace creative ways to change we think about what we have, and the willingness to take bold steps to put our natural features in the regional and national spotlight. 

Some existing maps and resources:

City of Ann Arbor Bike Map: