Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Botanic Garden and Historic Barns Park

Every once in a while, I stumble across a part of Traverse City that I know a little about but haven’t actually visited. A few weeks ago, that place was the Botanic Garden at the Historic Barns Park. I knew the gardens existed, but I didn’t really know much about them or what they were all about.

Turns out, there is a lot going on up there.

We hadn’t biked up near the Commons area since TART Trails put in the new Buffalo Ridge trail, which is what drew us up near the garden in the first place. Once we saw their beautiful Visitor’s Welcome Center, we knew we had to go inside and check it all out. I’m not one to pass up going into a gorgeous, well-designed building.

Inside, we were greeted by friendly volunteers. One of them, named Mike, asked us if we had time for a tour. Next thing we knew, we walked into a tunnel through a beautiful gate (handmade using only hammer and heat—no soldering—which was absolutely stunning) and onto one of the most informative tours I’ve ever been on.

Not only did we learn all about the farming history and heritage of the Historical Barns property, but we learned all kinds of things that we never would’ve known unless we were graciously hosted by Mike. He knew the ins and outs of the Botanical Gardens and their grand master plan, in addition to all the stories soaked in the history of the property.

For instance, when he took us upstairs to the conference room, we learned that the wood on the walls and in the windowsills came from the floor of the recently-restored Vogue Theatre in Manistee (another Michigan gem on my to-visit list). We learned about the pavilion in the back of the visitor’s center, and how there will be a wedding there this summer and the bride’s mother was so impressed by everything happening at the Botanical Gardens that she’s offered to donate the funds to have the pavilion finished by the time of the wedding. Having an expert on hand—and a very passionate, friendly expert at that—made this one of the best tours I’d ever been on.

Next thing I knew, we were sitting in an off-road golf cart and Mike was driving us all around the grounds. We learned about the old horse barn they’re converting into a walled garden; the impressive rows of trees getting ready to go in at the entrance of the visitor’s center; a sweet labyrinth they are putting in next to the picnic area (it’s already there if you want to check it out, but there will be improvements coming down the road); the plans to renovate the gorgeous cathedral barn, adding in an amphitheater and reception area; and which trees in the field are old apple trees leftover from the farming days. Perhaps most importantly, we learned where Traverse City’s world-famous dairy cow, Colantha, is laid to rest (not sure who Colantha is? Check out the Traverse Colantha Walker Dairy Fest). I learned more on that tour about the farming history of the State Hospital grounds than I have in my past 25 years, and I was totally geeked about it all.

The Botanical Gardens are positioned to be one of the most breathtaking places in all of Traverse City, and they’re already gorgeous. There are some truly wonderful things happening there, and the volunteers are so dedicated and devoted to the project that their enthusiasm is overwhelmingly contagious. I know I’ll be paying another visit to this beautiful property.

If you want to learn more, feel free to visit their website. Their annual memberships are so reasonable and go towards putting their grand plan into work and helps them move forward on their overall vision. I certainly recommend paying them a visit, especially on a sunny day where you can truly enjoy the magnificent scenery and views.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Restaurants in TC: Spanglish at the GT Commons

Alright, folks. It goes without saying there is some truly great delicious unbelievable food in the Traverse City region. As a local who happens to be incredible frugal and cooks a lot of my own meals, I admit that I don’t get out to eat as often as I’d like. The nice thing about that, I guess, is that every time I do make it out to eat it ends up being a really enjoyable experience and I often choose to go someplace new (to me).

Enter Spanglish, one of the best Mexican meals I’ve had in far too long.

The cuisine is traditional Mexican flair, and even though I’ve never been to Mexico I can only hope the food down south is as good as they serve it up here. Everything is fresh, made-to-order, and smells like a spice-filled heaven. I was famished after walking around the GT Commons area (where Spanglish is located), so I ordered up a vegetarian burrito and took in the vibe.

Outdoor seating is prime territory in Traverse City during the summer, and Spanglish has the most enjoyable little patio with spots for sun or shade. Inside, the restaurant is lively, colorful, and fun—three of my favorite words.

As I know I’ve mentioned before, I tend to gravitate towards restaurants that offer plenty of vegetarian options, and Spanglish absolutely delivers on that front. I rarely end up in a situation where there are TOO many good vegetarian options, but that’s precisely what happened! They have great combinations, different than your normal run-of-the-mill Mexican fare, and everything I saw on the menu (or on other customers’ tables) looked awesome. Just seeing and smelling all their great cookin’ made it clear that I’ll certainly come back…hopefully soon!

In addition to their menu, they have take-them-home-to-heat-up-and-eat tamales, a few Mexican grocery items, and freshly-made drinks that I’ve never tried before but looked especially tantalizing after being out in the warm sunshine. Thank goodness they had complementary water to help quench my thirst; I love when restaurants do that.

When my burrito was served up and it felt like it weighed ten pounds, I knew I’d made a great choice. It was soooo good and really filling, and I entered burrito nirvana on my first bite. Lucky for Sam, I share some with him.

If you find yourself at the Commons area and can’t make up your mind about where to eat out of all the great eateries in the area, I’m putting in my vote for Spanglish. It’s one of the best Mexican fixes in town, and I truly believe you can’t go wrong with anything on their menu. Plus, you can walk right over to Left Foot Charley’s and grab some wine or hard cider when you’re all stuffed up on delicious food! I’m pretty sure that’s what summertime in northern Michigan is all about (even if Kid Rock says otherwise).

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Fighting Invasive Species: YP Cindy Evans Goes Garlic Mustard Pulling

The Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network hosted a volunteer Garlic Mustard Pull event in Traverse City on May 28th from 4-7pm. When I came across the flyer a few weeks back I thought this would be a great event to sign my family up for as a way to be active and enjoy the natural surroundings, but also educational for my son (5) and my daughter (8) to learn about invasive species and why it’s important to care for our natural resources.

Of course, my kids were more excited about the free dinner offered afterwards that was garlic-mustard themed, catered by Oryana. They were both intrigued by the fact we would eat the very plant we would hunt for all day. 

Aside from my family, there were eight other community volunteers who gathered at the Boardman River Nature Center and listened to the quick presentation on where we were going and what we were looking for. Our guide, Chris, showed us how to identify the garlic mustard and how to pull it. Our goal was to pull the garlic mustard plants by the roots and place them in trash bags to be disposed of either in a landfill or used for animal and human consumption in various ways.

At first glance you wouldn’t realize that the garlic mustard doesn't belong: it looks s like any other wild flower you would see in the woods and is very attractive. But as we walked further into the area, it was easy to see how large and established these plants had become. Chris explained that as the garlic mustard grows and reseeds it leaves no room for the trillium or the other native plants to grow on the woodland floor.

He was right. As we came to well-established garlic mustard areas, there were no other plants surviving. Once we pulled the larger plants in a small area the land looked very barren underneath. By pulling them now, before the seeds were developed, we would make a difference in the next year. Each plant alone will develop hundreds of seeds that would be dispersed and cause spreading. My kids made this into a competition to see who could pull the most to fill a trash bag first. It wasn’t long and we had a pile of extra large trash bags full of these pesky plants. They do have a garlic scent to them as you pull and break the leaves, which I think possibly helped keep the mosquitoes at bay.

We spent a solid two hours pulling garlic mustard by the root and bagging it. In the end, we didn’t feel like we had won the battle. Once one spot was cleared there was another one just as large if not larger up ahead. It would have taken many more hours and a larger army of volunteers to have completed the small area we were working on. 

Chris, our guide, assured me that our few hours of effort really did make a difference. He and the Conservancy’s many partners have been out daily for weeks pulling garlic mustard and other invasive species and will continue to be out doing this very tedious job. I can’t imagine doing this for 8+ hours a day, every day: it’s hard work! 

I was not aware that this type of effort and dedication was being put forth in our community to maintain our beautiful natural areas. I have always enjoyed hiking and viewing our trails and woodlands, but ignorant to the efforts that are being taken so that I can enjoy those activities. I have heard about invasive species but didn’t realize what a true threat they could be until I saw it for myself. It would be devastating to no longer see the beautiful trillium on a walk through the woods. 

My 5-year-old son said, "These garlic plants are going to be endangered with me in the woods!” I hope that with this opportunity he has learned not just that garlic mustard is an invasive species, but the importance to care for our land and that even one person can make a difference. He may be small, but he pulled hundreds of plants and enjoyed talking our guide’s ear off about plants and animals.

The dinner we were served when we returned was excellent. The bread, soup, and salad from Oryana were all made with garlic mustard. Katie from the Invasive Species Network spoke to the group about all their efforts and programs and educated us on some facts about invasive species as we all enjoyed dinner. They were very appreciative of the volunteers help and sent us all home with free tee shirts and field guides. 

My son was studying the field guide pictures of the invasive plants on our way home so he could be prepared to identify and pull others in the future. I told him he isn’t allowed to pull plants from other people’s yards and that he should always ask an adult first. I hope that conversation registered with him, if not I can see myself explaining why my son was pulling plants from our neighbors yard and having to replace their flower beds. This could cost me more than I thought! 

Traverse City has so many opportunities to get involved or volunteer that it isn’t hard to find an event to participate in. There are countless organizations that are deserving and no short supply of causes. As a group, the YPs are active and make a difference--one member at a time!

-- Cindy Evans, TCYP Guest Blogger