New hike-bike path to connect Matthaei botanical gardens to B2B trail

A new paved hike-bike trail will link the University of Michigan (U-M) Matthaei Botanical Gardens with other nearby trails and provide a safer alternative to biking on the shoulder of Dixboro Road.

The two-mile trail will start inside the botanical gardens complex, cross the Radrick Golf Course, and run parallel to Dixboro Road, connecting to the Washtenaw County Border-to-Border Trail at Parker Mill Park.

Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, and the Michigan Department of Transportation provided more than $2.5 million in grants for the trail construction. Individuals and businesses also contributed nearly $800,000 toward the trail.

The new trail is expected to be used by U-M employees as well as by employees of nearby NSF International and the Toyota Motor North America Research and Development complex. Both companies made corporate donations toward the project.

Karen Sikkenga, associate director of Matthaei-Nichols, says her interest in pursuing the trail project came from her personal experience of bicycling to work at Matthaei.

"I'd ride my bike to work every summer, and I loved the river trail, but as soon as I got to Dixboro, it was harrowing along the last two miles of my route," Sikkenga says.

When Dixboro was resurfaced a few years ago, Sikkenga started cutting through Radrick Golf Course and thought it was much more pleasant than riding with traffic on Dixboro. She talked to Radrick staff and found they also supported the idea in theory, though they didn't want the trail to run through the golf course driveway and put cyclists in the path of oncoming car traffic.

Not too long after that, a student intern got hit by a car while riding his bike into work at the botanical gardens.

"He was doing everything right, wearing bright clothing and complying with traffic laws and signaling with his hands. The driver who hit him also felt awful. She just didn't see him," Sikkenga says. "It really reinforced for me that it was an important project."

Sikkenga says others have tried to initiate a similar project in the past, before her time at Matthaei, but the parties involved couldn't come to an agreement on funding, the exact route for the trail, and other details.

Surveys and research from those earlier efforts indicated a community interest in the trail, and NSF and Toyota have both supported the new trail project as part of a focus on wellness programs for employees, Sikkenga says.

This time around, Ann Arbor Township was the local government entity serving as the applicant for grants geared toward non-motorized transportation projects.

"They've had something like this project in their recreation plan for a long time, and they gave us their full support in this partnership," Sikkenga says.

Construction crews have already started clearing brush along the trail, and Sikkenga says the goal is to have the new project completed by autumn. In a few months, she expects to announce the grand opening date for the trail.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.
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