Project in the Prairie // Briana Reece
Growing up in Kansas, the prairie was always seen but rarely regarded. I would pass it as I drove down the road but only on occasion would I pass the barrier to walk among the grasses. Through the team’s conversations over the past semester, we have discovered many locals and visitors have had similar experiences. We have always seen the Tallgrass Prairie at face value without giving it any more thought. This Preston Outdoor Education Station aims at changing that perception. The project provides the infrastructure to experience the nuances of the landscape in which it is situated.
While uses and activities vary, Camp Wood accommodates visitors continuously throughout the year. During the busiest summer months the camp sees hundreds of children, staying for a week or two. The rest of the year, grade school classes will visit only for a day and groups will participate in retreats for short weekends. In each of these instances, Camp Wood only has a brief period of time to educate about the prairie and instill a love of this place in hopes that guests leave with a desire to conserve it.
How much orientation does one need to gain an appreciation and love for a place? The team set out to explore this question further through the inquiry of stakeholders for the project. Conversations, tours, and hands on experience provided collective feedback from an array of contributors used to design a series of structures which illustrate the most essential aspects of the Tallgrass Prairie. Layers of complexity exist in the seemingly simple landscape, all giving reason to why this part still exists while 96% of the original Tallgrass Prairie has disappeared.
As visitors travel from the existing parts of camp to the more remote location of this pavilion, they encounter stations aimed towards experiencing a certain facet of the landscape. These simply designed stations allow for the focus to be directed to the place by guiding people to the location where they can be best experienced. These personal observations are supplemented with didactic information presented through signage and counselor presentations.
The first location encountered along the path highlights insects and animals. From there, guests continue up the hill to the gathering pavilion where presentations and instruction can happen. Deeper into the prairie are stations for wind, grasses, and rock. On the top of the hill lies a large platform used for viewing the sky and a panorama of the vista. These stations lie along a more deliberate path to the top, growing the guest’s knowledge with each passing station. From the top, visitors are encouraged to venture into the prairie creating their own way back to the camp and appreciating the Tallgrass Prairie as they travel.
Our understanding of the landscape has been deepened but is nowhere near complete. We will continue to explore the Tallgrass Prairie as we design and build the Preston Outdoor Education Station.
Written by Briana Reece