The trail had been around since 1996, but Grese, his staff, and volunteers have connected it to other existing trails to form a loop arranged in a series of ecologically distinct groves. The goal is to include as many tree species native to Michigan as possible. "There are about seventy or so major ones," he says. "To date, we have about sixty-five planted, although there are others that have volunteered on their own. My guess is there may be another twenty-five or so relatively uncommon ones."
Some of the trees are still "little more than sticks," partly because Matthaei doesn't plant one on the trail unless it can confirm genetically that it came from somewhere in the state-"We don't want to go to a nursery and buy a sugar maple and find out later it came from Pennsylvania," Grese says. "For instance, we couldn't find anybody that could guarantee their hemlocks came from the state, but we had a volunteer with some property in the Upper Peninsula who was willing to dig up some hemlock seedlings and bring them to us."
Though it will be thirty years before all the trees are full grown, "my personal hope is that exposing people to the beauty of these native plants will inspire them to want to protect the wild habitats where they grow naturally," says Grese, "so there's a connection between the created nature we have in this garden and building a sense of stewardship of the habitats where these plants grow in the wild."
[Originally published in July, 2013.]