Feature Article - October 2011
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A Born Natural

Nature Takes Its Place in Recreational Experience

By Kelly Anderson

"Recreation and parks usually have a limited plant palette. Managers often only use what they know is bulletproof, never going outside their comfort zones. But the best way to explore new material is to do a test plot."

Mia Lehrer -
Mia Lehrer & Associates

Time Is Money

Another key to implementing successful landscaping solutions for any recreational project is time. Good planning that will anticipate future scenarios, future needs and present conditions takes time.

"You have to consider the community, the client and who's going to go there. Families with children? Sports? Passive recreation? Dog walkers?" Burnett said of the planning process. "You have to get that nailed down because they're all a little bit different. The designer needs to really understand the client and then program it, figuring out where everything's going to go and then take time. The lesson is to take the time to design it."

In the case of the Annenburg Community Beach House in Santa Monica, Calif., a historical restoration and transformation of a famous Hearst landmark-become-public-recreation facility, time was definitely a factor in landscaping for its success.

"Recreation and parks usually have a limited plant palette," said Mia Lehrer, president of Mia Lehrer & Associates, Landscape Architecture of Los Angeles, about the Annenburg Community Beach House, which required some out-of-the-box planting selections to honor the historic nature of the site. "Managers often only use what they know is bulletproof, never going outside their comfort zones. But the best way to explore new material is to do a test plot."

By taking the time to observe various plants' response to the salty, windy beachfront climate with a test plot, plants for the project could be selected before large amounts of money were invested, with the assurance that they would do well in such conditions.

Swing Your Partner

The Annenburg Community Beach House was also a success thanks to partnerships between the famous Annenburg Foundation and its generous $25 million donation, along with many other private and public funds and services.

"There has been a very special collaboration between the state parks and the city," Lehrer said. "They've been involved all the way through the planting and maintenance process."

In today's economic climate, partnerships have become an essential means of providing the kind of financial support required to buy money-saving technology, and sustainable, eco-friendly kinds of landscaped recreational space communities are looking for.

The Parklands of Floyds Fork, also supported by pubic-private partnerships, local donors, city governments and federal funding, owes much of its existence to the financial partnerships that have included private funding of specific attractions by such companies as PNC Bank, which will be building the PNC Achievement Center for Education and Interpretation, a 3,500-square-foot educational center.

But partnerships are not only financial. Municipalities and park districts are increasingly relying on the expertise and passion of part-time help, volunteers and nonprofits to oversee landscaped areas like parks and community gardens to help make ends meet, and to achieve the landscaped recreational spaces their communities want.

"Many who don't have money or know- how come to us, but there are many models that parks and recreation can take when it comes to creating a community garden," said Bill Maynard, community garden coordinator for the city of Sacramento, Calif., Parks and Recreation and vice president of the Community Gardening Association based in Ohio. "Parks and rec don't have to head it up; they can go to a nonprofit to oversee the project or, if they can't hire someone full time, they can hire a part-time person like me."