Big Marine Analysis

There is a place near the Twin Cities called Big Marine Park Reserve that is slowly being made into a place where people can go for recreation, solitude, and exposure to wildlife. The managers of that park are in the continuous process of developing a master plan that protects the ecosystem while providing access for visitors.  The north part of the park is well established as a day use area with year-round opportunities to enjoy the open space, the trails, and the wetlands and lake.  From boating to cross-country skiing, Big Marine is a diverse habitat for man and wildlife.  While eventually the park will encompass 1800 acres, currently just over a third of that area is designated as a reserve.  My studio class– Ecological Dimensions of Space Making– was asked to develop a hypothetical program and design for the as-yet undeveloped area.

The project was designed to illustrate to our class the complexities of developing a comprehensive site plan.  This place has both intact and disrupted biomes, old-growth oak forests and lakes polluted with agricultural waste, sound and unstable soils.  We’ve made two site visits to explore the various places that the park is hoping to preserve to begin to understand the experiential qualities there.  We found oak savannas, maple-basswood forests, wetlands, prairie, and open lakes. Being near the St Croix River and the Mississippi, it is an important habitat for migratory birds. It provides nesting territory for the endangered Blanding’s Turtle. Nearby agricultural ditching threatens to drain the alder swamps and rich fens that are scattered around the landscape.  Red-Shouldered hawks seek refuge on Maple Island in Mud Lake.

To effectively protect and enhance this environment, designers should consider a two-tiered approach to conservation.  We should endeavor to establish interconnections within the park as well as design to re-establish corridors throughout the surrounding area to create the most successful habitat for plants and animals.  We should weigh the potential for further degradation against the varying significance of the eco-communities or biomes in and around the park reserve.  There are two facets of making the best choices for this place.  The first involves field surveys to understand the spatial and experiential qualities there.

The second aspect of site analysis involves the careful scrutiny of the multitudinous layers of information found in GIS maps.  Our class was able to access maps demonstrating qualities such as soils, water table, and plant communities.  Based upon the various programs that we might imagine for our plans of the park, these GIS layers would provide the scientific data necessary to approve or rethink our designs.

This aerial photograph (200 scale) of the site shows the locations of roads, structures, vegetation communities, and water bodies.  Casual observation of the photograph can tell us a lot about the experiential aspects, connections, and human disturbances.  There are several areas damaged by cattle grazing and off-road vehicle use.  The site is surrounded by roads, some traveled frequently while others less-so.  By comparing this current image with historical aerials dating back 10, 20, and 50 years, we can see changes in land use that will further inform our analysis.  Eventually, based on the information I gathered, I was able to illustrate such human disturbances as noise, invasive weeds (carried by travelers on roads and trails), and agricultural impacts.

Analysis of the soils through GIS provides data about the structure of the earth which will inform us about the best locations for structures, roads, and septic systems.  When designing for roads, one should consider the porosity of soils and the potential for erosion.  Structures need to be sited in areas where soil drains quickly.  Septic systems cannot be placed in locations where the water table is susceptible to pollution.

Each of the soil qualities is given a color in order to identify it amongst the others that are layered. In order to effectively examine the suitability of the soils, many different layers are studied both individually and as mash-ups.

This work was done in small groups of design teams.  In my group, I analyzed the soils while another member looked at biological qualities.  A third member of my team examined physical qualities such as topography and slope aspect and still another researched the cultural components of our program.   Eventually we assembled a 15 minute presentation with maps, bubble diagrams, and photographs describing our analysis.  The next step in the project involves developing a master plan that combines all of our research and provides suggestions for design.

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About matthewtraucht

Graduate school student at the University of Minnesota's College of Design pursuing a Master's of Landscape Architecture, class of 2013.
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