BHA Design Incorporated is a landscape architecture and planning firm established January of 1993. The firm size is currently nine full-time designers, three principals and one administrative assistant. BHA provides sign design, image development, landscape architecture, master planning, urban design, public process, entitlements and architectural illustration services to both public and private clients in a variety of settings.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A new vision for habitat establishment, recreational amenity and storm water management all in one

The CIPO site is located within a well-established neighborhood. It had been seen as a “natural” area in recent history. Closer study of the history reveals that the natural drainage through the site has long been altered by farming, development and utility uses. Prior to the CIPO project the site was considered a natural area due to its naturalized appearance and frequent use by deer, foxes and other wildlife. This aesthetic endeared the community to the site and caused considerable resistance to the project prior to and during the design process. This resistance is typical of such projects and is often warranted with utility projects that aim to only address utility concerns. The CIPO project is different in this respect as the natural resources department is a partner in the project and co-owns a portion of the site. Both the Utility and Natural Resources Departments share in the desire to provide an exemplary project. This tied to an overall commitment to excellence from the City of Fort Collins culminates in a project that not only meets the stormwater needs but also serves as a wildlife habitat, recreational amenity, education opportunity, and ultimately a more diverse and special place with the community.

The Natural Resources Department goal for the project is to preserve and enhance wildlife habitat. At a minimum the project is required to preserve existing fox dens, shrubs and trees where possible. Meeting the goal of enhanced wildlife habitat requires an increase in native plant diversity and removal of non-native plant species. The Natural Resources Department also aims to provide recreational and educational opportunities and access via soft surface trails and an improved trailhead. To maintain a “natural area” esthetic, stormwater structures are to be as subtle and blend into the environment to the greatest extent possible. To create the habitat character desired requires an artistic approach to landform and corresponding planting plan.

BHA Design was retained early in the design process to help accomplish the goals of the Natural Resources Department while maintaining the integrity of the engineered storm water utility design. The landscape architecture effort was fully integral to the design process influencing not only the landscape design but the landform and structures as well.

The landscape design incorporates a number of unusual elements that are unique to habitat establishment, wetlands and water quality. The landform is sculpted to mimic the natural environment with varying slopes, undulations in the basin bottom, serpentine water ways, and careful consideration for views of structures and locations of existing fox dens and trees. Native plant species are selected for specific conditions within the project consisting of many microclimates due to varying sun exposure, elevation with respect to groundwater, and expected stormwater effects. This project is designed to require very little maintenance and no supplemental irritation after plant establishment. Trees of varying sizes are used to increase diversity of shape and perceived age. Unlike an urban park where a well kempt look is desired, the CIPO project is intended to look as natural as possible as soon as possible. Prior to the project the site was relatively flat with minimally diverse plant species. Very few native plants existed and almost no understory shrubs. The new design features wetland, lowland, and upland conditions which offer the opportunity to create a more naturalized environment with a diverse plant pallet uniquely suited to these specific conditions. Upland plants include native sages, rabbit brush, yucca, and native grass species selected for their minimal water requirements. The lowland conditions include native cottonwood, willow, river birch, plum, rose, current, dogwood and native grass species suitable for higher moisture conditions and infrequent inundation. The wetland areas including the water quality basin and low flow channels include native bulrush, rush, sedge and iris plugs along with a native wetland seed mix selected for periodic saturation and full saturation conditions. Wetland establishment is critical within the basins for their water quality benefits. Along with redistributed wetland soils, wetland plugs are used to jumpstart wetland establishment along with broad area seeding to promote natural colonization of wetland plant communities.

Beyond the selection of native plants, the landscape design also includes numerous loafing sites for wildlife. Massive cottonwood trees felled by a tornado in a neighboring community are incorporated into habitat islands in the bottom of the basins. Large sandstone boulders are placed along steep slopes to aid in slope stabilization and for human use as seating. These loafing sites provide birds safe perches above tall grasses, mammals a convenient overlook for prospecting, and warming zones for amphibians. The downed cottonwood snags are also used to accelerate the naturalization process both biologically and aesthetically.

CIPO accommodates many levels of exploration. Education opportunities abound in natural areas. The landscape within the CIPO project is designed to maximize access to these opportunities with the inclusion of two accessible boardwalk structures suitable for large group interaction with wetlands. A soft surface loop trail encourages recreation and educational exploration around and thru the stormwater basins. The trail head includes an educational kiosk highlighting interesting facts and information about the project.

The landscape design at CIPO represents a holistic vision for habitat establishment within stormwater projects. The project provides a recreational amenity to the community and ultimately accomplishes the stormwater management goals thru carefully orchestrated multidisciplinary design effort.