The Evergreen State College is exploring the feasibility of building a Forest Access Facility on its campus. Envisioned as a universally-accessible system of canopy-level walkways linking existing campus structures with an arboreal seminar pods, The Evergreen Canopy Walkway will provide unique opportunities to view and understand the forest from root system to tree top.
|Summary||Introduction||Methods||Results||Synthesis and Plans|
|Conclusions||Afterword||Acknowledgements||List of Appendices|
I explored the feasibility of establishing a forest access system for The Evergreen State College (TESC) campus to expand the way in which we view and understand forests on our campus and in our biosphere. Our team of students, faculty, and outside experts examined the feasibility of creating a set of physical structures that will provide the TESC community and outsiders access to the above- and below-ground parts of our campus forests and to view them from a wide range of contexts and perspectives.
The goals of this feasibility study were to: 1) explore potential ways that a forest access facility fulfills the missions of the TESC community in education, research, and community outreach; and 2) investigate potential obstacles that might block or hamper this project. Three areas were considered: educational considerations, particularly as they relate to the TESC curriculum and research programs; community outreach potential; and logistical matters. We interviewed TESC faculty, consulted with technical experts to identify and evaluate site conditions, created models, and established a four-phase structure for the whole project. We created plans for a facility of linked access structures that will physically and spiritually unite the "developed" portion of the campus (e.g., library, computer center, art gallery) and what it houses (printed and electronic texts and images) with the "undeveloped" parts of our campus (forest organisms and their ecology).
The TESC faculty, staff, and students and outside consultants whom we interviewed expressed particular enthusiasm about novel opportunities for interdisciplinary teaching and learning, and physically linking our "natural" and human-centered worlds. Activities relating to community outreach were of particular interest. Concerns involved logistical matters such as human safety, site protection, liability, and maintenance. There was consensus that these potential problems can be overcome, especially if we draw upon the experience of those who have safely and successfully used canopy walkway systems in other institutions.
This part of the project (Phase I), will be followed by further planning efforts. Our project team will assemble a 20-person "Project Consortium", whose members represent a range of potential users of this facility: forest managers, natural history groups, educators, artists, alternative health providers, K-12 educators and students, environmental groups, and expressive and performing artists. Funding will be sought from private sources to push forward planning for programs and for logistics over the next 12 months.
This project will allow its users to obtain different perceptions of the forest through changing the location from which it is viewed. It will also foster the teaching and learning of different perspectives of what forests are, how we come to understand them, and how they can be used and preserved. By inviting input from a wide constituency of audiences to join voices in a common place, conflict over forest use and management may be more smoothly resolved in the future.
I am exploring the feasibility of establishing a forest access system for The Evergreen State College (TESC) campus. My goal is to expand the ways we view and understand forests on our campus and in our biosphere. My vision is to create educational materials and a linked set of physical structures to provide access to the above- and below-ground parts of the TESC forest for members within and outside our community in a manner that is learningful, safe, and crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries and approaches.
The premise for this project is that humans’ perceptions of the forest are essentially ground-bound. We are hampered with ‘spatial tunnel vision’, since we normally view and interact with forests at the level of the trunk bases and understory vegetation. This perspective is located far below the interactive level of the forest canopy where energy and nutrients are exchanged. This earthtop vantage point is also remote from the opaque three-dimensional belowground world, where water and nutrients are exchanged within the soil. Humans also tend to perceive forests with ‘societal tunnel vision’, in terms of a particular product or service such as habitat for wildlife or fiber for making paper. I believe we can explode these spatial and perceptual bounds by creating physical structures to view the forest from a variety of perspectives and by bringing together individuals who represent different users to the same forest. This constitutes a crucial first step in better describing, understanding, appreciating, and sustainably managing forest ecosystems.
The goals of this feasibility study are to: 1) explore potential ways that a forest access system fulfills the missions of the TESC community in education, research, and community outreach; and 2) investigate potential obstacles that might block or hamper this project. At the outset of our study, we created a Mission Statement (Appendix 1) for a simple canopy access walkway system primarily for forest research by TESC students and faculty in the remote areas of our campus forests, patterned after existing walkways at other field stations. During this feasibility study, however, our vision expanded to plan a facility of linked access structures that will physically and spiritually unite the "developed" portion of the campus (e.g., library, computer center, art gallery) and what it houses (printed and electronic texts and images) with the "undeveloped" parts of our campus (forest canopy and underground organisms and their ecology) to better see and understand our forests.
We were concerned with subjects in three general areas: educational considerations, particularly as they relate to the TESC curriculum and research programs;community outreach potential; and logistical matters (Fig. 1). We carried out five activities: 1) interviewed TESC faculty, students, and administrators; 2) consulted with technical experts to identify and evaluate site conditions; 3) hosted a campus-wide lecture concerning other established canopy walkways systems; 4) created two- and three-dimensional models to visualize designs; and 5) synthesized results into written and oral reports.
1. Educational Concerns
Nearly all of the interviews and conversations we had with TESC faculty, staff, and administrators reflected positive attitudes about the potential forest access systems (Appendix 4). In most cases, once we framed the project, the respondent would jump in with associated ideas and applications. They raised a wide range of novel uses and perceived problems.
Participants expressed particular enthusiasm about the potential for: new opportunities for interdisciplinary teaching and learning; capturing the excitement of being in rarely visited parts of the forest environment and using that ‘educational moment’ to stretch visitors’ minds and attitudes; and physically linking ‘natural’ and human-centered worlds. Activities relating to community outreach were of particular interest, and suggestions included connections to the forest industry, K-12 education, arborists, writers and poets, performance artists, and alternative health providers. The terms ‘innovative’, ‘interdisciplinary’, ‘unique’, ‘very Evergreen’, and ‘exciting’ were repeated frequently (Appendix 5).
Cautionary statements and questions centered on issues relating to user safety, facility maintenance and continuity of its use in the future, security and liability for TESC, and environmental health of the site. Many emphasized that the facility should not be linked to a single or a few academic programs; rather, it should be incorporated into many facets of our curriculum to avoid its isolation and vulnerability in the future.
Models within and outside the TESC community were discussed. Several faculty drew an analogy to the TESC boats, which are perceived by some as a financial burden to TESC that generate little use outside of a few specific and sporadically offered academic programs. Other faculty mentioned the Longhouse as a positive model; it is successfully administered by the College and used by a wide range of outside audiences, which increases the breadth of our educational, outreach, and cultural offerings. Research-oriented canopy walkway systems at other colleges and research stations provided relevant safety plans and opportunities for potential research partnerships, but are too limited in scope to be considered appropriate models for this project. As with other innovative projects, there is no exact precedent that this project would mimic, but there was consensus that the educational potential of such a facility would outweigh the risks.
2) Community Outreach Potential
Several organizations and networks were identified as potential users and contributors to this facility. One group, the Olympic Learning Center, a recently formed arm of the U.S. Forest Service, has a mission to communicate forest research to forest managers and to the general public. They create interpretive materials and hope to provide links with non-TESC audiences. Other groups include representatives from forest industry (particularly local forestry companies), environmental education and advocacy groups (e.g., Sierra Club, Washington Native Plant Society), research groups (e.g., International Canopy Network, Ecological Society of America), and educator associations (e.g., Washington State Teachers Association). A loose but active network of researchers use walkways in temperate and tropical forest ecosystems, and this facility could be a keystone member of that group (Appendix 6). Less defined but equally important is outreach to individuals who would use the facility for the expressive and performing arts; we would initially rely on TESC faculty and staff to provide contacts.
3) Logistical Matters
The most pressing logistical concerns were: human safety; site considerations; responsibility for the maintenance of the facility; and liability issues.
b) Site health and maintenance was of great concern to us. Because our forests are 70-100 years old, few of our trees are strong enough to support the weight of the structures we envision, so a self-standing design is needed. A professional arborist experienced in canopy walkway design helped to identify and evaluate the general health of several forest stands. He made suggestions to minimize potential damage to trees and structures (e.g., making the walkways on a ‘roll-up design’ to reduce the area exposed to falling branches during winter wind storms) (Appendix 7B). Further study for site consideration (particularly soils) will be needed, but the consensus was that possible sites exist for our project on campus.
c) The responsibility for maintenance of this facility would ultimately lie with TESC Facilities, just as it would with the construction of any new building. Thus, it is crucial that the institution view this project as integral to the mission of the college. Discussions with TESC Financial and Budget Office administrators emphasized the need for strong connections between academic activities with this facility in the long term.
d) On liability issues, risk assessment officers at TESC advised that as long as the facility is built to code and constructed according to applicable regulations, TESC will not be held liable for harm, just as with any of our other existing facilities.
An architect in Olympia referred us to an architect firm, Anderson Anderson Architecture, in Seattle, Washington. The two architects, Peter and Mark Anderson, are regarded as innovative leaders in their field (Appendix 8). They provided ideas and designs that incorporate the objectives and constraints we presented. Our team jointly produced 2- and 3-D models of potential structures (Fig. 2-7). The current ‘work in progress’ is documented in Appendix 9, and is summarized below. [Note that ideas for the belowground tunnel occurred after this document was produced.]
FOREST ACCESS FACILITY FOR THE TESC CAMPUS
The centerpiece of the project, an arboreal seminar room (the ‘Canopy Ship’) perched at treetop level on stilts, will be located in a forest stand adjacent to the library complex (which houses the TESC library, computer center, art gallery, administrative offices, film archives, media center; hereafter, the Library Building) and the developed part of the campus. This proximity to major campus activities will facilitate access to the TESC community. It will also manifest the strong but invisible links between structures that represent traditional places of information storage and active learning (e.g., library, computer center) with the natural world (e.g., trees, soils) in the minds and spirits of the TESC community (Fig. 8).
Visitors will approach the Canopy Ship through an entrance room (‘the Green Room’) on the third floor of the library building. This room will contain educational displays and interpretive materials that explain the activities of the facility and prepare the visitor for the educational experience of viewing the forest from different perspectives and perceptions. From the Green Room, the Canopy Ship will be physically linked to the library building with an aerial walkway supported by stilts. The walkway will follow the design of existing research and ecotourism-oriented canopy walkway systems around the world. The Canopy Ship will have a capacity of 35-40 people and can be used for classes, seminars, lectures, readings, and performances. Its walls can be opened or closed, depending on the type of activity and the weather. The roof of the Ship, lined with native mosses and lichens (the ‘Mossbed Theater’) will be used as a viewing space from which to watch films and performances.
From the Canopy Ship, five walkways will radiate to the forest, in the configuration of an open hand, symbolizing the outreach to and movement of information between the forest and the Library Building. Four of the walkways will terminate in the crowns of nearby trees, where small platforms will be used for activities such as environmental measurements, drawing, or reflective writing. One of the walkways will descend from the Canopy Ship to the forest floor. From there, the walkway will cut into the soil, and lead the visitor to observe the forest from the "mouse-eye" level, a perspective that is rarely observed by adult humans. The walkway will then cut down into the soil and become a tunnel that enters the soil itself.This will expose the visitor to the rarely visited world of the underground. Within the tunnel, lighted panels will be installed to allow visitors to observe root distribution, soil horizons, and soil-dwelling biota.
The walkway will then pass below the small paved street behind the library building (Driftwood Road) and then slope back up to the ground surface to emerge into the undeveloped forest area on the other side of the campus. Pathways from this point will connect to other forest trails, research platforms in trees, and more remote parts of the campus. This set of structures will thus link the ‘heart of the campus’ -- Red Square and the Library Building -- with the undeveloped regions of our campus, providing a multitude of novel views of the forest along the way.
Interpretation of these new perspectives and perceptions will be carried out with a variety of media. We will strive to present a wide range of perspectives on how forests are seen by different audiences. For example, the scientific approach can be interpreted through reprints of papers that document the vertical stratification of temperature profiles from the top of the canopy to the bedrock that underlies the soil. Species and images of the flowers and fruits of the native plants will communicate the natural history of the site. Access to long-term data and its synthesis will be made accessible through computer terminals in the Green Room.
The aesthetic aspects of the forest will be represented by images of the forest created by visitors (e.g., students from TESC programs, K-12 students and senior citizens on field trips, nature photographers) that are displayed in the Green Room and within the forest site. We also envision a ‘virtual art gallery’ where the many images created by people using the facility can be captured, archived, and viewed electronically. Another interdisciplinary concept is to develop ‘the virtual forest’ in conjunction with TESC and other computer scientists. Visitors can preview or post-view the forest, clicking on particular objects that can be explained in appropriate detail. For example, innovative construction techniques will be revealed by clicking on the screen image of a walkway stilt; images of the life cycle of a microscopic soil nematode could pop up on the screen by clicking on a soil horizon; a medley of bird songs would result from touching the computer image of a bird nest.
Materials will be adapted to particular audiences, based on input from representatives of constituent groups. For example, we may create a slug zoo for children, a moss-identification workshop for naturalists, and a set of interactive graphics to show annual variation in rainfall for TESC environmental studies students. Representatives from different audiences will provide input on the content of the particular outlook of their groups, e.g., forest industry representatives could explain how a living tree is evaluated for its commercial potential, alternative health providers may document how meditation in a forest canopy environment can decrease stress, a third-grader could explain why she cares about saving forests, and arborists may demonstrate how tree health can be monitored with non-invasive techniques. Our goal is to help users of the facility to come away with a broader view of what a forest is, both spatially and contextually.
1. Project structure
We see the project as a unit that will be implemented in four phases: In Phase I (this feasibility study, funded by TESC), we formulated the central concepts, identified core audiences, and confronted major obstacles. In Phase II, our goals are to contact representatives of potential audiences, narrow specific uses of the facility, identify appropriate educational and research tools, and push forward logistical plans for the facilities. We anticipate funding for Phase II to come from private foundations. In Phase III, we will formulate a realistic time schedule and financial budget, initiate private and state fund-raising efforts, and refine teaching and learning tools. Phase IV will be the implementation of the project.
2. Phase II Activities:
Our next step, Phase II, is to pursue planning efforts to: outline programs and content of educational and research activities, especially within the curriculum of TESC; establish partnerships with interest groups within and outside of TESC by forming a Project Consortium; and identify and outline solutions to logistical concerns. We will approach private foundations to fund these planning efforts ($50,000-$100,000) over the next three months. These funds will be channeled through either TESC development office or the International Canopy Network [a not-profit organization (501(c)3 status) located on the TESC campus whose goals are to increase communication about forest canopy research, education, and communication, Appendix 10]. After funds are obtained, we anticipate a one-year time frame for Phase II activities.
b) Community Outreach efforts: We will assemble a Project Consortium of ca. 20 individuals from associated organizations for a one-day facilitated meeting to set the outlines for the types of audiences and users this facility will provide (Appendix 11). The Olympic Learning Center and the International Canopy Network will provide the modest amount of materials and work it will take to organize this effort. The meeting (in mid-October, 1997) will take place on the TESC campus. We will host a round-table discussion on potential uses and contributions from each group and visit potential campus sites. The results will be synthesized and incorporated into grant proposals to appropriate foundations (Appendix 11).
c) Logistical matters: We will explore logistical matters by: 1) mapping the proposed sites, expanding from existing campus maps, 2) work with architects on design, costs, and construction methods that reduce environmental effects; 3) obtain advice from engineers, soil scientists, and arborists; and 4) consult with the TESC administration, particularly those involved with the campus Master Plan and the Financial and Administration office. We will also coordinate with existing plans to build a new classroom building (Seminar II) in the next 2-3 years.
2) This project could contribute to campus-wide efforts to heighten the awareness and increase the apparent use of campus lands. Visitors to TESC often note the size and beauty of our campus, but actual use of the campus for teaching and research is cryptic. Although our lecture halls, library, and playing fields are readily perceived as places for learning, the 1000 acres of forests that surround us appear to many to be mere background scenery. This project would proactively counteract that misconception.
3) The forest canopy and the forest underground are active sites of scientific discovery and interdisciplinary studies. The forest canopy, termed "the last biotic frontier", is one of the most poorly known but species-rich habitats in the biosphere and has attracted much scientific and public attention (Appendix 12). Belowground organisms and processes are even less well known, yet constitute the area where vital ecosystem processes occur. With this facility, TESC will become part of a coalescing network of institutions that successfully use canopy walkways. By participating in this network, we can avoid pitfalls in the management of forest access systems and generate comparable data sets for cutting-edge intersite research.
4) Interacting with the forest from non-traditional perspectives such as the canopy and the belowground worlds will create "educational moments" to learn about the natural world. Access to these realms -- slightly scary, very exhilarating – will evoke a spirit of adventure, joy, and awareness of forest life.
5) This project will allow its potential users to obtain different perceptions of the forest by presenting a variety of different perspectives of what forests are, how they can be used and preserved, and how we come to understand them. By inviting input from a wide constituency of audiences to join voices in a common place, conflict over forest use and management may be more smoothly resolved in the future.
Appendix 1. Mission Statement
"…to assist students
in learning how to learn and how to
continue developing their skills
in a world of increasing diversity, interdependence, and moral complexity…"
[Role and Mission Statement for TESC, 1989]
Appendix 3. Background readings (most from the TESC Program Representing the Land: Landscape, Drawing, and History)
Appendix 6. Announcement of Forest Canopy Walkway presentation at TESC in which research applications were described
Appendix 7. Technical reports
Appendix 9. Designs for potential
research and advanced-use access structures, created by the project team
Appendix 10. Description of International Canopy Network
Appendix 11. Potential funding sources for Phase II activities
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|Summary||Introduction||Methods||Results||Synthesis and Plans|
|Conclusions||Afterword||Acknowledgements||List of Appendices|
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