Natural Alliance

Natural Alliance

Students in an Ecological Planning & Design studio taught by landscape architect Nick Pouder are proud to say that their work is helping the state of Connecticut in its quest to preserve 21% of its land area as open space for public recreation and natural resource conservation. Pouder makes a special effort to find real-world projects each year as he teaches students basic site analysis and mapping skills along with an understanding of geographic information systems.

Two years ago Pouder – an adjunct faculty member in Landscape Architecture – got students involved in analyzing Camp Francis, a 250-acre parcel of wooded land in Connecticut owned by the Girl Scouts of America. When the land went on sale, the Connecticut-based Kent Land Trust (KLT) immediately began considering a purchase. The nonprofit conservation organization enlisted the help of Pouder’s students to comprehensively assess the site as part of the grant package used to raise the funds needed to buy it.

“The land was zoned for residential development, so it could have gone anywhere,” says Pouder. So the Connecticut-based environmental planner got involved and turned the needed research into a studio project. He divided the class into multiple groups and charged students with assessing the land in different ways – notably, for recreational use, as a habitat for endangered species, and in terms of the site’s water quality.

The detailed maps students created in the studio were used as part of the grant package KLT put together when buying the land last December for approximately $1.5 million. “RISD students did a terrific job helping us to assess the land,” says KLT Executive Director Connie Manes. “The state really prioritizes the ability of the public to benefit from the land, so the recreational analysis was key, and the students’ excitement about the property was contagious.”

Another key feature of the former Camp Francis acreage is its proximity to other protected land parcels, which allows conservationists to build a natural corridor of connected forest and wetlands sites. “There are a lot of vernal wetlands on the site that fluctuate seasonally,” Michelle Jordan MLA 14 explains. “These shifting pools provide the best habitat for frogs and salamanders because hungry fish cannot get at their eggs.”

“Amphibians are also susceptible to pesticides,” Pouder adds, which is why creating a sizable protected tract is so important to their survival. When the site opens to hikers, canoeists and kayakers as early as this summer, lucky nature lovers will be able to spy bobcats, bears and barn owls – and even, perhaps, a transient moose. The positive experience of working with RISD students has encouraged Manes to look for opportunities to collaborate with other colleges as well. “We’ll be working with the Yale Outdoors Club to restore trails this spring,” she says.

And graduate students in Landscape Architecture were equally excited about their partnership with the land trust. “We were really fortunate to work on the KLT project as first-years,” says Andrew Jacobs MLA 14. “The whole process was great. From the very start, we felt like we had some agency in how things played out.”

Simone Solondz

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