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Bird Hills Nature Area

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​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Address:​ ​1850 Newport Rd, Ann Arbor MI 48103​​​

Access          Amenities          History


Hours and Rules
Open 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Refer to Chapter 39 of the City of Ann Arbor Code of Ordinances for park regulations and rules. Smoking is prohibited, bicycles are prohibited, and dogs must be on leash.  ​

Overview

Bird Hills Nature Area is the largest natural area in the city at 146 acres. Its hilly woods are a sanctuary for hikers. A network of trails allows the opportunity to spend hours hiking through beautiful forested areas or just a few minutes to appreciate nature. The area is closed to bicycles to prevent damage from erosion.  No facilities are available in this undeveloped natural area. There are plenty of interesting and rare plant species to observe. The unpaved trails wind through hills and ravines covered with beech, sugar maple, flowering dogwood, oaks and hickory and various spring wildflowers. Other areas have been planted with various trees not native to our area. View a printable brochure​ describing the natural features of the park.​​

Access and Parking

​There are five trailheads: Down Up Circle, Bird Road, Beechwood Drive and two near the Newport Road parking area.​ There is a small parking lot at the main entrance to Bird Hills on Newport Road​. There is a small parking area on ​Beechwood Drive​. There is also a very limited amount of parking in a small pull-off lot on Bird Road​ on the north side of the park, and some street parking there as well. Parking is also available in the Barton N​ature Area lot, on W. Huron River Drive, near the Barton Dam.​​ View the Bird Hills Parking Guide​​ for more detail. 

Bicyclists can get to Bird Hills by riding on Newport Road, Huron River Drive, or Hampstead Lane. None of these roads have dedicated bike lanes. There are bike racks at two of the entrances, view the parking guide for specific details. Bicycles are not permitted within the park.

There are trail connections to Barton Nature Area​ and Kuebler Langford Nature Area.​ The Beechwood Drive entrance is just 150 feet north of an entrance to Sunset Brooks Nature Area.

Public Transit:​ The nearest bus stop is along Miller Avenue, which is about a mile away and a 15 minute walk from the park. Visit The Ride​ for closest stops and route details or check out the parks ride guide​​. ​


Amenities

  • Benches throughout park, view asset m​​ap​ for amenity locations​​
  • Bike racks at entrances
  • Trails throughout park​





Volunteer

There are ongoing and limitless opportunities for volunteering and getting engaged with the Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation Services Unit. Natural Area Preservation has volunteer opportunities that support their mission to protect and restore Ann Arbor's natural areas and to foster an environmental ethic among its citizens. If you are feeling the call to volunteer or give some time, reach out or explore the website above to see what’s upcoming or how to get involved.​​​​

Report a Problem - A2 Fix It

To report any maintenance issues or other problem during your park visit, please report through A2Fix It.  When reporting an issue in a park please include location details. There is a details and description section near the end of the request process to help you provide this. In addition, users can utilize the pin (website) or X (mobile app) feature to provide specific location information inside the park. Finally, please consider including a wide angle photo or include background landmarks, which helps staff find and fix the problem.​

Gifts and Donations 

Information on donating to the parks and the Guide to Giving can be found he​re​. For special projects ideas in natural areas, Natural Area Preservation​ staff will guide you and provide project guidelines unique to natural areas.​​​

History

Bird Hills has an interesting and varied land use history that adds to its significance as a park.  Old photos indicate that the property was logged in the late 1800s.  The central ridge and slopes were barely spotted with trees and were heavily grazed by cattle.  Some remnants of the park’s agricultural past are still visible today.  Old concrete tracks mark the site of a farm road designed to fit the wheels of a wagon, while letting the horse or ox pulling the wagon walk on softer ground between the tracks.  The northwest portion of the park was used as a terraced fruit orchard.

In the early 1900s, Henry Graves and his nephew Winfred Bowen bought the property to develop as a high quality subdivision.  At this time much of the main ridge in the park was still cattle pasture and was nearly treeless. View this 1927 photo of Bird Hills. The absence of plant cover increased the amount of runoff from the high ridge after a rain event.  This caused severe erosion in the steep ravines running down to the river.

To make the land more appealing for potential home owners, Henry Graves planted a variety of trees on the open site.  This contributes to the diversity of woody plants in Bird Hills today, and explains why many non-native trees such as Scots pine, Douglas fir and white fir can be found there.  However, these development plans never came to be as Graves eventually changed his mind about development (read more here).

In 1968, the majority of the parkland was purchased by the city​ for $319,634​.​ In the 1970s, when plans to create a condominium complex next to the park surfaced, neighbors and other citizens rallied and raised enough money to help buy the land.  Again in 1990, more land adjacent to the now-larger park was threatened by development, and again the citizens and city teamed up to buy the land to add to the park.

It is likely that the overstory, and certainly the understory, that existed at Bird Hills 200 years ago was different than it appears today.  In addition to the introduction of non-native species, the composition of flora has also been influenced by prevention of naturally occurring fire.  As fires regularly moved through Washtenaw County prior to European settlement, the forest understory was thinned, and the overstory was more open, allowing native species such as oak and hickory to flourish.  Without naturally occurring​ fires, some of the forested areas of Bird Hills have become better suited for shade tolerant non-native and invasive species such as Norway maple, white ash, and buckthorn.  If the forest is allowed to develop in the absence of fire, non-native species will dominate and out-compete the native plants for light, space and nutrients.  This is why Natural Area Preservation (NAP) conducts controlled fires​ ​in Bird Hills during the spring and fall.

The rich diversity of native plant species found in Bird Hills ranks the park second highest overall in the city’s Floristic Quality Assessment of its natural areas. This high value gives an indication of how “natural” the site is (approximating the vegetative conditions present prior to European settlement in the early 1800s).  A higher value reflects a higher coefficient of conservatism for the species growing in that area.  These conservative species have become so highly adapted to a specific set of biotic and abiotic conditions (including soil condition, temperature, moisture, humidity, presence of fire, etc.) that they cannot exist if these conditions are modified evenly slightly.  So, when you encounter these species in the wild, as you do in some of the biological communities at Bird Hills, you can be fairly confident that you have come across an area that is about as 'natural' and undisturbed as we can find in our modern world.

To read more about Bird Hills Nature Area history, volunteer efforts, ecological restoration and other Natural Area Preservation​ activities, check out the NAP Newsletter features that have highlighted Bird  Hills:  ​

1998 Restoration Focus: Bird Hills Nature Area by ​Kathy Sorensen​

2005 Park Focus: Bird Hills Nature Area by Shelley Gladwin

2013 Park Focus: Bird Hills Nature Area by Yousef Rabhi​​​



 Updated August ​2021. Email [email protected] for incorrect/outdated information.​​