Fellows Riverside Gardens is known for its roses, tulips and daffodils, but new paths opening next month will take visitors inside a native woodland setting filled with hemlock, oaks and sugar maples.
When Elizabeth Fellows donated the land in the 1950s, she requested that a portion remain in a natural state, said Keith Kaiser, the gardens’ horticulture director.
That led to the Ohio Woodland Garden in the southeast corner of the property. Until now, many visitors might have overlooked or skipped the area that was accessible only through rough paths.
“The new winding paths are laid down and people can follow them and find themselves spending 45 more minutes there exploring. There’s something about public gardens that are both orderly and an opportunity for discovery,” said Janet Yaniglos, president of Friends of Fellows Riverside Gardens.
“It just opens up new vistas and experiences,” she added.
The Friends is a volunteer, nonprofit organization that collaborates with the gardens and Mill Creek MetroParks. The group helped raise money to put toward the estimated $1.2 million project cost that includes the woodland paths, rainwater cascade drainage system and, in the future, an elevated canopy trail.
The project is part of gardens’ master plan, which was updated in 2008. Though some funding for the drainage system came from the MetroPark’s capital improvement fund, most was privately donated, Kaiser said.
The paths are brick with a concrete base and wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs. Construction took about three months.
“We’re very proud that we’ve made the experience so much more open for people with disabilities. You so often see people taking a senior family member in a wheelchair through our gardens, and these paths will make this all the more possible,” Yaniglos said.
Another addition is the Woodland Gathering Rocks, where individuals and groups can rest or have discussion.
Kaiser said the proposed canopy walk, which would be an offshoot near the woodland paths, also would be handicapped accessible.
“We want people to feel like they’re in the treetops. Not everyone had the opportunity as a kid to climb a tree,” he said, adding that funds are still being raised for the canopy portion of the project.
But the public can use the woodland paths in December when the walkways will be decorated with electric lights and torches during the gardens’ Winter Nights.
In spring, Kaiser said native wildflowers, such as trillium, Dutchman’s breeches and witch hazel, will bloom in the woodland garden.
“We have many people say ‘I never went back there before,’ and we think this will change that,” Kaiser said.