Exploring Midland

Get ready to discover plenty of welcoming surprises around this big small town the Dow family built.
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The Tridge is a popular three-span attraction that crosses the Tittabawassee and Chippewa rivers. It connects with the Chippewa Nature Trail, which begins nearby. – Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau

What would you do on a weekend in this city nicknamed the “home of modern explorers” and “city of beautiful churches”? Turns out there’s a lot, regardless of the season.

If you’re a newcomer, Midland — with just 42,000 residents — will be a pleasant surprise, indoors and out.

Sure, it’s the home of Dow Chemical and Dow Corning, two Fortune 500 companies begun by Herbert H. Dow, who got his start making numerous important products. Midland boasts one of the country’s highest number of Ph.D.s per capita, and its businesses are speeding to the future, working on everything from the next generation of batteries for autos and homes to bioscience innovations. But it’s a lot more.

The calming H Hotel lobby welcomes guests. – Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau

There’s Midland’s renowned arts community, new downtown eateries, an aptly named hotel with two restaurants, and outdoor fun that includes part of a multi-use trail that traverses through five counties.

In winter, bring your cross-country skis and museum shoes, and something to wear to the symphony. In summer, bring your bike, kayak, or canoe. In spring, you’ll need a fishing rod and a taste for sweet maple syrup.

In 2020, Midland made national news after upstream dams on the Tittabawassee River failed, devastating nearby towns and partially flooding downtown. Since then, the city and region have made steady progress toward a full recovery.

The H features three restaurants, including Cafe Zinc. – Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau

Book It

There are several hotels and B&Bs in Midland, but my choice is The H Hotel. Yep, H. As in, hydrogen. Only in this city built on lumbering, which then moved on to science, could owners come up with a hotel name — as well as the names of three restaurants — lifted from the periodic table of elements.

The hotel is right in the city’s reshaped downtown. And it’s plain cool, with 130 rooms within walking distance of some great eateries and not far from other things on your things-to-see list. The hotel features three restaurants that continue with the “elemental” theme: the Oxygen Lounge, Café Zinc — CA for calcium, FE for iron, and ZN, as the sign says, for zinc — and One Eighteen, for 118 — the number of periodic table elements. Clever, eh?

The H features a stunning staircase. – Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau

In the summer, Main Street from Ashman to Rudd becomes a pedestrian plaza, resulting in the more intimate, relaxed, and quiet experience that many cities are leaning into. The summertime mall will continue at least into 2025.

The Midland Center for the Arts is one of the most comprehensive art facilities in the state. – Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau

Indoor Action

If you’re in Midland this winter, the first thing to do is head indoors. Check out what’s happening at the Midland Center for the Arts, one of the most comprehensive arts centers in the state and an absolute gem.

First, there’s the Midland Symphony Orchestra. Its 2022-23 series runs through early May. What about a play? This season’s Broadway & Beyond series features five presentations, including the musicals  “Cats” and  “The Book of Mormon.”

The Community Theater, at the same venue but within the Little Theatre, features three play choices through early June. The long-running Matrix Midland series, meanwhile, is an eclectic collection of events ranging from talks on science to ballet performances.

The Midland Center for the Arts is one of the most comprehensive art facilities in the state. – Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau

If that isn’t enough, the center’s Windows on the World Series will include a vocal ensemble from Zimbabwe, the Grammy award-winning Sones de Mexico, and Syrian American and First Nations groups through early May. Comprehensive enough?

If art’s your thing, this small town has more surprises. Book at least 24 hours ahead of time, then enter the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio. This Dow (Herbert’s son) focused on architecture and designed more than 70 structures. His home is a National Historic Landmark. Dow is one of the originators of Mid-Century Modern, sometimes called Michigan Modern — and, lucky you, it’s open for tours from February through December.

See some of his work and that of others by downloading the city’s Mid-Century Modern Midland Driving Tour app (all homes on the tour are private, but can be viewed from the road). Not into architecture? You may want to drop a pin downtown at spots like Gratzi Midland, or get sticky fingers at downtown’s Molasses Smokehouse & Bar or, just west of downtown, at the Midland Brewing Co.

Molasses Smokehouse & Bar is a local favorite. – Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau

Outdoor Delights

Like your fun outside? You got it. If there’s snow, dress for the outdoors and head for Midland City Forest, just north of U.S.-10. There are nearly eight miles of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails, including a .7-mile lighted section, and its 13 miles of mountain bike trails are open year-round. Rental skis and skates are available when the chalet is open.  If speed’s your need, try the four iced toboggan runs operating when conditions permit — they provide the rides. Or try the bring-your-own sled, lighted hill.

Start a winter walk at the famous Tridge, which opened in 1981 and barely escaped overtopping during the 2020 flood. Its three spans cross the Tittabawassee and Chippewa rivers. The Chippewa Nature Trail begins there, and is part of 19 miles cut through the woods that are also open for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Eventually, the trail takes you to the Chippewa Nature Center, but you’ll get there faster by car. The nature center features, among other things, a sugar house where, on weekends in March, your family can watch as staff collects and boils maple sap, turning it into syrup.

The 1,400-foot-long canopy walk in the Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens is the longest in the nation. – Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau

The Tridge also marks the east end of the Pere Marquette Rail Trail, a 30-mile paved path from Midland west to Clare that’s been named to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Hall of Fame. It can be part of a longer snowmobiling journey, taking you 90 miles west to Baldwin.

After brunch at one of the city’s restaurants, head to what you couldn’t take in yet. It’s hard to do Midland justice in one weekend, as it’s truly one of Michigan’s most surprising towns — one that’s worth a return visit for kayaking, canoeing, and watching its minor league baseball team, the Great Lakes Loons, in summer.

Two public outdoor fire pits on Main Street downtown invite visitors and locals to sit and relax. – Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau

Plan It!

Great Lakes Bay Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau
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