TRAVERSE CITY — The first daffodils and crocus had yet to poke up their leaves at The Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park as volunteer Denise Butterfield passed out logo vests to volunteers at the new Visitor Center.
The center officially opens May 1 with the help of volunteers and the evolving Botanic Garden’s first paid staff member, Manager Mike McNulty. The LEED-certified building was completed in October with little fanfare but for its supporters’ tears.
“We cried. It was 13 years,” said Karen Schmidt, chairwoman of The Botanical Garden Society of Northwest Michigan, which has been working for more than a decade to create a regional botanic garden in northern Michigan. “It was absolutely so joyful. We knew how it was going to look, but somehow walking into that building and realizing that we had made that first step ...”
Local architect Ray Kendra and his Environment Architects designed the center, which was built with money from the Michigan Resources Trust Fund and from a $1.5 million capital campaign for the first phase of the Botanic Garden and for the restoration of the nearby Cathedral Barn. The barn is a project of The Recreational Authority of Traverse City & Garfield Township, owners of the 56-acre Historic Barns Park.
Originally the center was a 1886 granary on the grounds of the former Traverse City State Hospital, the site of the park and the 25-acre Botanic Garden. The building was renovated and the lead-based paint removed from its stone walls — made from ships ballast hauled from Wisconsin on 1800s sailing ships and picked up at the docks by hospital employees.
Now the 2,700-square-foot building features a steel-and-cedar facade, reception desk with wood trim reclaimed from the Vogue Theatre restoration in Manistee, bathrooms and a drinking fountain, a gift shop area and an upstairs community classroom.