The concept of a botanic garden in Northwest Michigan originated with a 1999 survey conducted by the Grand Traverse MSU Extension Agency. As the old Traverse City State Hospital and grounds was transferred from state to local ownership, the Extension Agency conducted a survey of 1700 households in five surrounding counties to explore interest in a botanic garden on the grounds of the old state hospital. The results showed strong support and the Botanic Garden Society of Northwest Michigan was formed in 2000 with that mission. It took nine more years and several attempts before the Society was able to obtain management rights at that site.
When residents of Traverse City and the Charter Township of Garfield passed a millage to purchase three parkland areas in 2004, it included a 56-acre parcel on the old hospital grounds. In 2007 a series of public forums were held to determine the best use for that park, and a botanic garden was one of the choices. The Botanic Garden Society submitted a proposal and over the next two years negotiated with the Traverse City/Garfield Township Recreational Authority for a management agreement. In 2009 the Society was awarded management rights to 25 acres of the Historic Barns Park and a master site plan was completed. In 2010 the Botanic Garden collaborated with the Recreational Authority on a $l.5 million capital campaign and over the next three years met their goal. The campaign funds were divided equally between the two groups, with half going towards the restoration of the Recreational Authority’s Cathedral Barn and half towards construction of the first phase of the Botanic Garden. The first phase included additional design work, renovation of the old farm Granary into a Visitor Center and meeting room, the first garden at the Visitor Center, and restoration work on the old Horse Barn foundation for a Walled Garden. The Visitor Center was complete in 2013, with landscaping of the Visitor Center gardens and restoration of the horse barn foundation scheduled for 2014 and landscaping of the Walled Garden for 2015. In February 2014 The Botanic Garden was awarded management rights to the 100-year-old Wagon House as well, which will be renovated as a classroom and rental venue.
The future will include development of additional gardens as per the master site plan, including healing gardens, edible gardens, a children’s garden, and others, as well as an ever-expanding menu of educational and recreational activities.
Public gardens have a powerful and positive impact on the health, environment and economy of a region. They make it a better place to live. The Mission of The Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park is to design, build and manage a year-round botanical garden in Northwest Michigan for the purposes of botanical and environmental preservation, education and research, and the enjoyment and renewal of citizens and visitors.