Design Opportunities For Improving Nature’s Playground

Amanda Prosser, PLA
Sports + Recreation Business Unit Leader
June 6, 2023

ISG Employees Explore Local Trail Amenities + Opportunities

Calling all park enthusiasts, trail conquerors, and outdoor aficionados! At ISG, we're not just landscape architects, designers, engineers, and planners, we are also passionate water quality advocates and adventure seekers. For this National Trails Day, our trail-loving team members took the lead in honoring our trail systems by adventuring out to discover those within ISG office communities.

Putting their expertise to work, they explored and identified key amenities of successful, functional, and resilient trails. Their forward-thinking takeaways are sure to excite any trail goer, from robust amenities to sustainable landscape solutions that improve trail accessibility.

ISG Trail Goer: Kenzie Johnson, Landscape Designer ISG Office Community: Des Moines, Iowa

Meet Kenzie, a talented landscape designer with a knack for optimizing pedestrian flow between natural and built landscapes.

In and out of work, Kenzie spends time considering the positive impacts that a thoughtfully designed landscape can have on quality of life and productivity. In her role, she has worked to develop such impacts for site developments, planting designs, and various park planning projects, including the Racoon River Park Master Plan in West Des Moines, Iowa.

As a mother, former cross-country runner, nature-lover, and professional who shapes the land that people of all ages work, run, and play in, Kenzie brought a well-rounded lens to appreciate and analyze a 3.2-mile loop at Brown’s Woods Forest Preserve in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Trail Amenities

What makes this trail truly special is its inclusive nature. It caters to a wide range of trail users, from speedy runners chasing their personal best to leisurely hikers savoring the scenic beauty. Families can roam freely, making the trail feel like a space where everyone belongs. The trail accomplishes this by integrating a variety of pathway types like gravel, mulch, and grass. This allows hikers to experience an outdoor adventure while still being able to navigate different trail parts and views with ease.

Trail users can also expect to embark on an educational journey, as engaging and informative signage awaits them along the way. Imagine stumbling upon a sign with a phone number, dialing it, and being treated to an audio tour filled with fascinating trail facts and tidbits about the area. This trail offers that interactive experience to elevate hikers’ sense of adventure.

Further improving the user experience are clear directional signage along the immersive nature path. Forget feeling lost, as these signs easily guide hikers through the trail and to nearby amenities. Being in an area where hikers can feel immersed in nature, the trail also the perfect outdoor retreat for urbanites.

Key Amenities

  • Offers a variety of pathway types
  • Draws in a variety of users
  • Has interactive, clear, and educational wayfinding
  • Provides an immersive nature experience

Trail Areas of Opportunity  

To keep the dull hum of vehicular traffic from sneakily pulling people’s attention from the excitement of the path ahead, this trail could use a thick vegetative noise buffer between the street and the trail. Nobody wants distractions from their adventure on the trail.

Sprinkling in some extra trail markers along the path can help hikers achieve a feeling of accomplishment faster as they check each marker of their list. Frequent markers are also a great tool for hikers to avoid getting lost on the trail.

Additional seating opportunities and regular maintenance of those seats will help keep the trails convenient to tired hikers, users of all ages, and the local bird-watching crew. Creating additional or new signage to direct users to seating locations would also help guide tired legs there faster.

Allow users of all abilities and ages to explore to their hearts’ content without fear of a blocked path by expanding the trail to include more accessible routes and implementing regular trail maintenance.

Key Opportunities  

  • Add a vegetative noise buffer
  • Install frequent land markers
  • Design and install quality seating and respite areas
  • Design accessible trails and plan for maintenance to ensure accessibility

ISG Trail Goer: Claire Roth, Planner ISG Office Community: Bloomington, Minnesota

Meet Claire, a balance guru on our team. As a planner, she's all about finding perfect harmony between social, economic, and environmental factors in both public and private markets.

With her expertise, Claire has been a champion for community engagement and planning support, especially when it comes to outdoor recreation and park master plans. She knows the importance of taking a comprehensive approach to park and trail management, ensuring that every aspect is considered and optimized for maximum benefits and fun.

Claire analyzed the Mississippi East Bank Trail and Minneapolis Grand Rounds Scenic Byway, owned by the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board in Minnesota. With her keen eye for detail and love for adventure, she dug deep to uncover ways to enhance these iconic trails. Her dedication to finding the perfect balance between preservation and enjoyment makes her a trailblazer in her field.

Trail Amenities

Bike and pedestrian separation efforts on the trail were clear using painted lines, signage, and separate paths. By keeping pedestrian and bikers in their designated lanes, the trail ensures a more pleasant and worry-free experience for all.

A bounty of trail amenities like play structures, shaded seating, restrooms, water stations, bike pumps, and picnic areas give trail goers a positive outdoor experience blended with modern convenience and respite opportunities.

The trail also offers numerous trail connections, helping hikers elongate their trail excursions and drawing in those with hearts that crave exploration in the great outdoors.

Another treasured aspect of this trail includes its marvelous views of the beautiful Mississippi River and various lush greenspaces. These views help to connect hikers with their local natural resources, which plays a powerful role in helping people understand the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature.

Key Amenities

  • Separates bikers and pedestrians on the trail with visual markers and separate paths
  • Offers many amenities
  • Links users to other trails
  • Connects visitors with the area’s natural resources

Trail Areas of Opportunity

Unfortunately, like many trails, this trail faces drainage issues that can make the trail unusable after heavy rain or the spring snowmelt. This could be remedied by incorporating strategic stormwater conveyance and storage options, such as native planting, stormwater retention basins, or other green infrastructure improvements.

Even with efforts to separate biker and pedestrian visitors, collisions still happen. To improve safety, different surface types and additional physical separation of the biker and pedestrian paths could be implemented.

The reality of hiking is that it can be all too easy to get lost. Help hikers feel confident with their sense of direction by updating the signage along the trail, posting new signage in popular locations, and creating a comprehensive trail, sidewalk, and park map that outlines the trail and connections.

High-traffic roads that connect with trails can be tricky to manage, causing issues with trail flow and pedestrian safety. Implementation of elevated crosswalks with lights and increased signage would help improve vehicle awareness.

Key Opportunities

  • Have experts analyze the trail’s stormwater conditions, identify drainage solutions, and assist with prioritizing improvements
  • Separate biker and pedestrian crossings with a multi-grade approach
  • Install signage with maps and markers to improve locational awareness

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Amanda Prosser, PLA
Sports + Recreation Business Unit Leader
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Amanda Prosser, PLA

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