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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

September 2008 Issue

PRAIRIE SCHOOL
Landscape architects help steer a regional park system into the future by honoring the past.

By Linda McIntyre

PRAIRIE SCHOO

Is Michigan a prairie state? Even many of us who grew up there associate the state’s landscape more with woods and lakes than with open grasslands. But the James Clarkson Environmental Discovery Center, winner of a 2008 ASLA Honor Award, shows Michiganders and others a thing or two about the state’s ecological history as well as how landscape architects can lead a diverse team on a complex, long-term restoration project.

The center is the newest showplace at Indian Springs Metropark in White Lake, Michigan, a little more than an hour’s drive northwest of Detroit, where lakes and open space start to appear between the subdivisions, car dealerships, and office parks. Indian Springs is one of 13 Metroparks in a five-county area along the Huron and Clinton rivers in southeastern Michigan. The parks are spacious—Indian Springs, by no means the biggest, comprises more than 2,200 acres—and, with miles of hiking, cycling, and equestrian trails, 10 golf courses, canoe and other boat rentals, pool and lake swimming, fishing, picnicking, and sledding, they draw millions of visitors every year.

A big part of the Metroparks’ mission is education. The system includes 10 nature centers, two farm learning centers, a historic mill, and a roving 48-foot trailer that serves as a mobile learning center, taking the natural world to area kids who have a hard time getting to the parks themselves. The Huron–Clinton Metropolitan Authority (HCMA), which has run the parks since it was established in 1939, has been able to balance area residents’ diverse needs with plenty of options available for those who want to learn, those who want to play, and those who just want to spend some time with nature.

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