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Islands of the James River: Landscape architects share vision

Posted: Thursday, Aug 21st, 2014

Mike Patten, left, landscape architect with Stockwell Engineers, begins the presentation by explaining the overall area and the Islands of the James River concept. David Locke the other landscape architect on the project, stands at right. In the net photo, Locke answers a question about the James River recreation area prior to the presentation. PHOTOS BY LOUISE VAN POLL/PLAINSMAN

HURON — About 60 citizens of Huron gathered at the Campus Center Tuesday evening to see a vision for the James River recreation area.

Landscape architects Mike Patten and David Locke, with Stockwell Engineers, were in town to present an overall plan for the 200 acres around the James River from the Seventh Street boat ramp south to the old lagoons. They were hired by the city commission nine months ago to look over the area and come back with a game plan. And what a plan it is, breathtaking in its scope and vision.

Locke and Patten had met with stakeholders and special interest groups as well as walking through the existing spaces and learning the history and vagaries of the river. Their concept, Islands of the James River, tries to incorporate the river and embrace it, rather than trying to block it out and ignore it.

“We heard many times from people that they felt disengaged from the river,” said Patten. “People would come to the river, but there was limited access to it. We wanted to make it more inviting where folks can interact with it.”

The entire area was broken down into eight smaller spaces: the Seventh Street ramp area, Crown Park, Ravine Lake, Memorial Park, the Memorial Pool area, the Third Street Dam area, Riverside Park and the east river property. Each area can be developed seperately, but all are connected by walking/biking paths and will have a uniform look through signage and lighting elements.

Some major changes would be installing traffic signal lights on Highway 14 and Jersey Avenue allowing for pedestrian crossing and installing boulders above and below the dam to eliminate the dangerous undertow.

“Something will have to be done with this dam in the near future,” explained Locke. “Either with stacked boulders or a rock arch model. Because of the high risk of drowning, the government is forcing towns to change these old-style dams.”

Another unique feature throughout the system would be the development of islands and inlets to help absorb flooding and to allow water to drain away quicker and without using pumps. These areas would also be landscaped with flood resistant plantings to make them more resilient.

A few members of the audience were concerned about allowing water to enter Riverside Park, fearing flooding to their adjacent properties, however Patten said most of the flooding in that area comes from run off from above which does not have an outlet to the river. He also emphasized that all plans would require a ‘no rise, no impact’ study.

“This study is used to be sure we don’t affect the river up stream or down,” said Locke. “This assures owners that their property will not be affected.”

The old pool area would become an outdoor ampitheater, children’s exploration garden and a parking lot.

There were a lot of positive comments and feedback, with the majority of those attending voicing approval of the overall plan. The community seems ready to at least begin the process of improving the James River area and making it a destination spot for people of all ages and abilities, familes and children, visitors and residents.

The Islands of the James River is a far-reaching vision that will take years to accomplish, but every journey begins with a first step. Now the residents will have to decide if they are willing to take that step.

Louise Van Poll is a columnist and freelance writer for the Plainsman.

For the complete article see the 08-20-2014 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 08-20-2014 paper.

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