History of Dicken Woods

Then ...

In November 2002, the Dicken neighborhood of Ann Arbor learned of an imminent threat to the nature area known as Dicken Woods:  a Novi developer’s proposal would destroy the woods.  The neighbors joined forces and over the course of one year, succeeded in saving the woods.  In FDW missionOctober 2003, the Ann Arbor City Council voted to purchase Dicken Woods as city parkland.

... and Now

The Friends of Dicken Woods work in close collaboration with NAP (Natural Areas Preservation) as stewards of the woods.  The goals are to preserve, protect and improve the woods and instill an environmental ethic among those who visit.  Much has been done to meet these goals.

Early in our stewardship the FoDW established trails through the nature area.  Each year the trails are maintained by clearing overgrown branches and weeds and by spreading chips to allow easy access.  Drain pipes were added to channel water under the wetter areas along the trails and a foot bridge was built as an Eagle Scout Project.  During annual work days massive amounts of invasive plants have been removed and many native trees, shrubs and wildflowers have been planted and tended. A butterfly garden has been developed.

A grant from FoDW resulted in a field guide via collaboration among the FoDW, the Leslie Science and Nature Center and the city’s department of Natural Areas Preservation. The project was funded through the generosity of a FoDW member who asked to remain anonymous. The guide was to be used as a resource which would allow for the best possible use of the woods. This Field Guide to Dicken Woods has recently been updated.

The Friends also established a grants program for Dicken Elementary School.  Each year the Friends donate $1000 in grants to fund school science programs that relate to the woods. 

The programs are mostly provided by Leslie Science and Nature Center and have included Winter Wonders; Fur, Feathers and Scales; In Cold Blood (cold blooded animals); Decomposers-Rats, Vultures, and Roaches; Hunters of the Sky (raptors); and environmental songs with Joe Reilly. Another special project was the funding of a tiled mural titled The Trees of Dicken Woods.  It was done as a school art project and presented as a permanent gift to the school.

For many years the FoDW worked with the school in holding its tremendously popular Winter Walk through the woods.  Students created their own luminaries and the Friends set them out along the trails turning a cold winter night into a magical evening. After the walk the Friends provided cookies and hot chocolate in the school. Most recently the overwhelming success of this event has necessitated changes in the trail use and the school has now assumed ownership of the walk using mostly school property.

Dicken Woods has become a special place for the entire neighborhood.  It is not a playground, it is not a park.  It is a nature area that we as a group have promised to preserve, protect and improve.  As each year passes we continue to fulfill our original commitment.

To learn more about the first phase of the Friends work- the year-long effort to save the woods- see the original archived website.

The Effort to Save Dicken Woods

Fall 2002
The threat to Dicken Woods first surfaced in October 2002, when residents in the Ann Arbor Dicken Elementary School neighborhood received flyers regarding a November 14 meeting at Dicken, where a proposed townhouse development would be presented by a large privately-held Novi developer, Crosswinds Communities, that is putting its stamp on southeast Michigan.

The turnout at Dicken was very large, with over 70 neighbors showing up. Crosswinds representatives told Erik Stalhandske, a Dicken neighbor, that they had never had more than 30 people come to such a meeting. Erik passed around a sheet of paper asking interested neighbors to provide contact info if they wanted to work against this development. The sheet quickly filled up, marking the first steps in the formation of the Friends of Dicken Woods!

Crosswinds had only a purchase option agreement with the owner of Dicken Woods - the Catholic Diocese of Lansing - but in order to install their proposed Townhouse development, Crosswinds needed to convince the City of Ann Arbor to rezone Dicken Woods from R1C (single family houses) to R3 (high density townhouses). The Friends of Dicken Woods knew that R3 zoning was not only incompatible with the existing R1C-zoned neighborhood, but also ruinous of Dicken Woods, and they were prepared to fight the petition.

November 2002: First Planning Commission Review
Shocked at the proposal's assault on the existing design of the neighborhood, and its destruction of Dicken Woods, the neighbors turned out en masse at the Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting of Tuesday, November 19, 2002. Following passionate, intelligent, arguments made by dozens of neighbors, the Planning Commission voted to table Crosswinds' request, and suggested that the developer try to work with the neighbors to redesign the proposal into something that could satisfy both parties.

Crosswinds went back to work, but rather than consult the neighbors, they redesigned their plans and then merely offered the neighbors a chance to see the proposal shortly before it was resubmitted to the Planning Commission.

Meanwhile, the neighbors also got to work, investigating options to save Dicken Woods, studying the successful efforts of the Friends of the Bluffs from a few years earlier, contacting fundraisers, reaching out to the Diocese, studying the Master Plan, raising awareness of the assault on Dicken Woods.

February 2003: Second Planning Commission Review
And again, a very large contingent of neighbors showed up at the Planning Commission meeting, on Tuesday, February 4, 2003. The neighbors outlined reason after reason that this proposal should be rejected, and the Planning Commission, much in agreement, seemed on the verge of outright denial of Crosswinds' petition. However, out of a sense of fairness to Crosswinds' already significant investment, the Commissioners offered the developer yet another chance to redesign the proposal. The Planning Commission appeared to lean strongly against re-zoning to R3 townhouse for Dicken Woods, given the myriad reasons that R3 zoning was inappropriate on this land. Crosswinds had failed - again - to show why the Master Plan should be overturned. And so the proposal was tabled again.

The neighbors, feeling increasingly confident, took the next step and organized another neighborhood meeting at Dicken, on Wednesday, February 19, 2003. It was here that the Friends of Dicken Woods officially formed. 

Spring 2003: The Friends Get Active
The Friends began meeting monthly after the February 19 meeting, picking up momentum, new members, and determination. A Steering Committee formed and began to help shape the activities and plans for the group. Yard signs were purchased and spread around the area, leading to a rapid growth in membership, which approached 140 members by the end of May 2003. Plans were made for the next session at the Planning Commission, were it to come. The dickenwoods.org website and electronic mailing lists were created. Plans were laid for fundraising activities. Contacts were made with city officials and other non-profit organizations.

May 16 2003: Crosswinds Backs out!
On May 16, 2003, three members of the Steering Committee traveled to Lansing for a meeting with the Diocese of Lansing. Here it was learned that Crosswinds Communities had officially backed out of their purchase agreement with the Diocese. The Friends made it clear that our plans were to raise $50,000 and work with the City of Ann Arbor to secure other funding in order to save Dicken Woods as part of the Ann Arbor parks system. The Diocese was receptive, though we were informed that two other developers were still interested in the property.

And so the Friends got busy, stepping up planning, beginning fundraising, presenting at the May 2003 meeting of the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission, meeting more frequently with other city officials, and beginning to work on a formal plan to the Diocese for how the Friends would succeed at saving Dicken Woods!

June 2003: Fundraising, the A2 PAC and "the Plan of Action"
In June the Friends' focus turned to three new fronts: raising funds to help in the acquisition of Dicken Woods, making the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission (PAC) understand the importance of Dicken Woods, and convincing the Diocese of Lansing that the Friends' vision was viable.

The Friends presented at the June 6th Park Acquisition Subcommittee meeting of the PAC, met with the City's Manager of the Natural Area Preservation Division in the Parks Department on June 10th, presented at the Western Ann Arbor Kiwanis Club on June 10th, submitted a detailed document to the PAC on June 12th showing how Dicken Woods fits with the PAC's master plan for parkland acquisitions, and built a coalition of support in the local environmental and educational communities receiving letters of support from the Huron River Watershed Council, the Allen's Creek Watershed Group, the Sierra Club - Huron Valley Group, the Superintendent of the Ann Arbor Public Schools, the Principal of Dicken Elementary School, and State Representative Chris Kolb. The Friends also presented at the June 15th meeting of the PAC, submitted a 33 page "Plan of Action to Preserve Dicken Woods" to the Catholic Diocese of Lansing by the June 27th deadline, and hosted a massive neighborhood garage sale on June 27/28 that raised $3,600 after distributing over 700 neighborhood flyers. The Friends also undertook more intensive personal fundraising among the neighbors, raising pledges to nearly half the $50,000 goal by the end of June.

It was a productive month.

July 2003: the A2PAC Votes to Pursue Acquisition!
At its July 15th meeting, the Ann Arbor Parks Advisory Commission voted to begin negotiations with the Diocese for the acquisition of Dicken Woods! The Friends' had succeeded in raising awareness about the importance of Dicken Woods. Now the Friends had to focus on fundraising, which quickly became top priority. Plans for a benefit concert at the Ark were finalized for an August 21 event with an incredible lineup of musical talent. A "Borders Benefits Days" fundraiser was planned for September 19-21, and personal fundraising efforts were increased again as another 700 flyers were distributed throughout the neighborhood.

August 2003: Music to Save the Woods, Funds Pour In
As August rolled around, the Friends continued focusing on fund raising, while negotiations between the City of Ann Arbor and the Diocese of Lansing began in earnest. The Friends continued personal fund raising efforts, raising pledges via the web site and personal contacts. And plans were laid to approach the business community for support. Meanwhile the Friends continued to focus significantly on the August 21 benefit concert at the Ark, a major event noted on the front page of the Ann Arbor News' August 17th edition and in a feature story on the front page of it's entertainment section. The concert, featuring a lineup of incredible talent including David Barrett, George Bedard, Matt Watroba, Khalid Hanifi, Kitty Donahue, and Peter Madcat Ruth, was a smashing success. Over 200 audience members enjoyed a delightful evening as the musicians played from the heart.

Throughout August, donations and pledges, and new members, continued coming in at a steady pace. There was a significant momentum to the efforts. Over 95 households had already made donations or had made pledges for donations. The Friends of Dicken Woods surpassed 250 members!

September 2003: Ann Arbor District Library Tries to Buy Dicken Woods
On September 2, the Park Advisory Commission voted unanimously to approve a resolution recommending City Council purchase Dicken Woods at the full asking price of $500,000. The very next day, September 3rd, the Friends reached their goal of $50,000 in fundraising with an additional pledge.

Wednesday September 3rd also brought the stunning news that the Ann Arbor District Library, incredibly, had tried to outbid the City's agreement with the Diocese. The AADL then offered $550,000. Friends of Dicken Woods Steering Committee members were shocked and appalled that another of their public institutions was raising the cost of the purchase, not to mention the possible destruction of Dicken Woods. Unexpectedly, the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission voted by the end of that same day (the deadline for offers), to match the AADL offer of $550,000. The Friends contacted the AADL Board, expressed extreme disappointment, and urged them to withdraw their offer. The AADL declined to withdraw their offer, even though they told the Friends that they had no plans for actually building a branch on Dicken Woods, and that they were still planning to build a branch on Oak Valley, barely a half-mile away from Dicken Woods.

On Friday September 5, word reached the Friends that a purchase agreement had been signed by the City of Ann Arbor and the Diocese of Lansing! The Diocese had decided to sell the land to the City for parkland. All that was left was for City Council to approve the agreement, and it was expected to vote at their September 15 meeting.

To their continued surprise, the Friends found out that the resolution to purchase Dicken Woods had been pulled from the City Council agenda just days before the 15th. The city was exploring options with the AADL for possible split use. The Friends Steering Committee told all parties that they firmly believed all 10 acres of Dicken Woods should be preserved as a natural area.

October 2003: Council Votes to Save Dicken Woods!
The Friends continued their focus on working to save all of Dicken Woods. Judy McGovern, of the Ann Arbor News, wrote a column criticizing the Dicken Woods effort, and the Ann Arbor News had a major editorial in the Sunday Sept. 14th edition urging the city to not buy Dicken Woods. The Friends responded with a flurry of letters to the editor, highlighting and defending the process that had been followed, and the logic of the arguments in favor of saving Dicken Woods.

Finally, the Friends learned on the morning of Tuesday October 7, that Dicken Woods had been added to the Council agenda for that very evening. More than 30 Friends showed up that night at City Hall. 9 out of the 11 votes were for purchasing Dicken Woods as parkland within the Ann Arbor Parks system. The Council Chambers erupted in loud and sustained applause. Finally, Dicken Woods was saved!