Design Corner

Restored Ecology as Park Design Inspiration

By Scott Crawford, PLA, ASLA, LEED AP

Valley View Park is an 84-acre park located in West Des Moines, Iowa, at the crossroads of Interstates 35 and 80. Over the past two decades the City of West Des Moines has been and continues to be one of the fastest growing communities in Iowa. Since 1990, the city's population has grown from 31,702 to 56,609, and the city has increased in size from 21 to 47.3 square miles. Projections currently estimate the city to grow to a population of 71,863 by 2020.

In May 2010, the city retained the services of RDG Planning & Design, in collaboration with Applied Ecological Services and Foth Infrastructure & Environment, to facilitate a master plan process for Valley View Park, focusing on engagement of citizens and emphasizing the importance of natural resources management. The Valley View Park Master Plan is the culmination of an extensive public involvement process, investigation and evaluation of historic site conditions, and a balanced approach to park development incorporating human needs with environmental considerations.

Inventory

The initial phase of the master plan process consisted of researching the historic conditions of the site, completing an investigation and natural resource inventory of the site's current conditions, and synthesizing this data into layers of information to gain a better understanding of the various opportunities and challenges of future development. Considerations included historic and existing land cover, regional and sub-watersheds, hydrology, soils and wetlands, wildlife habitat, adjacent land uses, and pedestrian and vehicular access locations. This information provided the foundation for informed decisions to be made during concept plan development phases.

Public Involvement

Citizen engagement and input was an essential aspect of the master plan process to achieve the city's goal of creating this park as a model with an ecological-based approach to design. Involving the public early and frequently in the process was equally important to ascertain park needs of the community and to gain insight into citizens' understandings of historic and existing environmental conditions of the park, and demonstrate the importance and benefits of appropriate natural resource stewardship as the park is developed in the future.

Concept Development

Once the program and priorities for the park were determined through the inventory and public involvement process, multiple concept plan alternatives were created that responded to these elements. Following several refinements and vetting of these concept plan alternatives with the public, the design evolved to meet active recreation and park needs of the community, as well as provide restored ecological zones for passive recreation, interpretation and educational opportunities.

Master Plan

The success of the master plan is deeply rooted in the ability to transform a parcel of agricultural land into a functional public place that balances purposeful human activity with ecology and economy.

Ecological zones of the park are seamlessly integrated with the stormwater management areas to mimic the processes of an ecologically-based water cycle rather than an engineered or forced management of this system. Rainwater that falls on the park generally flows from west to east and, through the proposed master plan, is provided with multiple opportunities for infiltration and water quality improvement through a treatment train of bioinfiltration cells, wetlands, rock streams channels and drainage basins.

Active and passive recreation zones of the park correspond closely with the ecological zones and stormwater management areas of the park.

The perimeter vehicular drive and distribution of parking create an internal circulation loop to allow users access from all entrances to amenities within the park and parking opportunities in close proximity to major program elements.

The vehicular circulation drive located at the perimeter of the park also minimizes vehicular intrusion into the core of the park and creates less pedestrian-vehicular conflict. The pathway circulation system includes multiple connections to adjacent trail systems, neighborhoods and sidewalks, and establishes a hierarchy of pathways including high, moderate and low intensity use through varying trail widths, materials and alignments.

The southwest corner of the park, with high visibility from 88th Street, provides an ideal location for active recreation elements such as basketball, sand volleyball and tennis. The great lawn area is intended to provide much needed practice spaces for a variety of teams, leagues and organizations as well as a large contiguous open space for festivals and special events.

The outdoor ice rink will be located on the northeast corner of the existing Valley View Aquatic parking lot. This is a highly desirable location for a facility of this type as it maximizes visibility and presence from 81st Street, creates an architectural statement at the east entrance of the park, and is able to capitalize on shared parking with the Valley View Aquatic Center lot that already exists and is currently underutilized during the winter season.

The area east of the great lawn will provide users with a lower intensity level of activity as the park transitions from highly maintained turf grass to restored native prairie and oak savannah habitat at the center core. This area will have a stream plank walk that crisscrosses the rock step channel through the oak savannah habitat, creating a dynamic interaction with water for users. The moderate intensity trail that connects the north and south portions of the park meanders through the oak savannah. A low intensity trail follows the ridgeline of the ellipse-shaped earth berm on the west side of the oak savannah and an elevated boardwalk continues the ellipse-shaped trail to traverse the wetland area and braided stream.

The natural play area, located directly north of the oak savannah and wetland boardwalk will have an interactive splashpad for children and adults to experience the water cycle story and emphasize the importance of water quality through a variety of user-controlled aquatic elements.

The largest structure at the park will be the community building. Anticipated to be large enough to accommodate groups of approximately 250 individuals indoors in a banquet or reception-style setting with a full-service kitchen, the community building and adjacent outdoor pavilion will be located on the east portion of the park, overlooking the large stormwater pond from the north. Located at the west end of the celebration pavilion will be an outdoor theatre with terraced seating and a stage for performances and programs.

With a diverse range of recreational and interpretive experiences for West Des Moines citizens and visitors to the community, Valley View Park will offer a meaningful physical, emotional and spiritual retreat for generations of users. Knitted into the growing western edge of the city, the adjacent context of low, medium and high density residential development, and multiple trail connections to regional systems, access and location of Valley View Park are critical to the success of this master plan and future use of the park by neighboring residents as well as regional trail users.

The first phase of Valley View Park is currently under construction with anticipated completion in the summer of 2012, making the west half of the park available to users in early 2013.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Crawford, PLA, ASLA, LEED AP is a partner, landscape architect and director of the Parks and Recreation Design Studio with RDG Planning & Design. He has consulted with a diverse range of public and private parks and recreation entities to create unique experiences that appropriately manage environmental systems, promote healthy communities, improve quality of life and respond to financial realities. For more information, visit www.rdgusa.com.



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