During World Landscape Architecture Month, the National Park Service highlights the results of our enduring partnership with the American Society of Landscape Architects
By Evelyn Moreno
For more than 20 years, the National Park Service – Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program (NPS-RTCA) and the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) have collaborated with communities across the country on more than 80 conservation and outdoor recreation projects.
Through this national partnership, NPS-RTCA staff identify projects that would benefit from the expertise of licensed landscape architects and recruit ASLA members who can volunteer their time and skills. Together, we pair the planning skills of NPS-RTCA staff with the design expertise of ASLA members to help communities plan and manage their natural, recreational, and cultural resources.
We provide pro-bono facilitation and planning assistance to neighborhoods, nonprofit organizations, tribes, and state and local governments – helping them turn their visions into a reality. Our partnership focuses on bringing everyone to the table to ensure the long-term success of the project and its benefits to the community.
Each project extends the missions of the NPS and aligns with the Biden-Harris Administration’s “America the Beautiful” initiative. In collaboration with ASLA, NPS-RTCA supports locally led projects focused on conserving, connecting, and restoring lands and waters across the nation to build healthy neighborhoods, power local economies, and help communities become resilient to a changing climate.
A few projects that have resulted from our partnership:
Inclusive Recreation on the Saluda River Blueway
Winding calmly toward the Atlantic Ocean from the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Saluda River makes its way through northwestern South Carolina, brushing past old mill towns, rolling countryside, and historic landmarks. Once a vital piece of the area’s textile industry, the river became a source for hydroelectric power while its potential for outdoor recreation went unnoticed.
In 2013, NPS-RTCA partnered with the ASLA South Carolina Chapter and the Anderson County Parks & Recreation Department to facilitate the planning of a 48-mile accessible water trail that meets the requirements set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Together, NPS-RTCA and ASLA organized a design charette to develop a solution for getting canoes and kayaks around a dam. Residents, planners, historians, and 15 volunteer landscape architects worked together to design river access points that are accessible to all. The design process further expanded outdoor recreation opportunities by connecting the Saluda River Blue Trail to existing parks along the river.
With assistance from the partnership, Anderson County exceeded ADA expectations – installing portable, floating kayak launches that give people with disabilities an opportunity to get on the water despite the issue of constantly fluctuating water levels.
“This has been all about inclusive access on the river… to give some people a river experience that they would have never gotten otherwise,” said Matt Schell, the director for Anderson County’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
Restoring Sacred Lands: Tásmam Koyóm Maidu Cultural Park
After more than a century of displacement, the Mountain Maidu people returned to their homeland − Tásmam Koyóm (the Maidu name for Humbug Valley) which is a 2,300-acre alpine valley in California’s Sierra Nevada.
With a vision to develop a cultural park dedicated to education, healing, and traditional ecosystem management, the Maidu Summit Consortium requested assistance from NPS-RTCA. In collaboration with the California Sierra and Nevada chapters of ASLA, NPS-RTCA supported the Mountain Maidu tribe in developing conceptual plans for a park entry site to welcome visitors, identified public access opportunities for a trail network while protecting special cultural sites that only tribal members can access, and developed a 40-acre visitor zone that includes improvements to the Yellow Creek Campground.
“It gives us a chance to bring back our culture, and the way we live,” said Beverly Ogle, a Maidu elder, author, and activist. “It’s given us a land base to bring back our plant life, the botany, the wildlife, and reconnect with the landscape.”
Today, the Mountain Maidu tribe continues to work on developing the Tásmam Koyóm Maidu Cultural Park where they will be able to share their history and heritage with visitors and care for the land.
Conservation and Outdoor Recreation on North Beach Eco Park
Migratory birds aren’t the only ones flocking to Corpus Christi, Texas. With a goal to expand recreational and educational opportunities, the city is implementing plans for a 30-acre ecological and birding park in North Beach that will cater to both their human and avian visitors.
In 2019, the city requested assistance from NPS-RTCA on the park’s design and asked for support in building organizational development for community partners. In collaboration with the Houston/Gulf Coast Section of the ASLA Texas Chapter, NPS-RTCA held public meetings to identify community ideas and generate feasible designs for a migratory bird habitat with recreational opportunities for visitors.
Three park designs were developed from community input, resulting in a master plan for a park that will be home to healthy wetlands and wildlife as well as trails, boardwalks, observation decks, interpretive signs, and educational resources for outdoor programming.
Improving Access to the Sacramento River
The River District in Sacramento, California has a rich cultural and natural history and is located at the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers. The Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency applied for assistance to develop placemaking
concepts for the Sacramento River waterfront.
In 2020, NPS-RTCA partnered with the ASLA California Sierra Chapter and UC Davis’ Department of Landscape Architecture to host three virtual design workshops with the community to explore, envision, and re-think the concept of place along the waterfront.
More than 60 community members and stakeholders participated, including local
tribal members and residents of a low-income housing development. The workshops focused on developing a vision to improve access to the riverfront and expand existing recreational and educational opportunities by creating welcoming spaces that reflect on the history, identity, and legacy of the residents that call the area home.
In addition to creating safe access to the waterfront, the planning and design effort was seen as an opportunity to promote a sense of place and ownership for community members. Concepts generated from the design workshops were shared with stakeholders and city and county officials to identify concepts for funding and implementation.
Evelyn Moreno is a writer and editor with NPS-RTCA.