Impact Insights Projects

Nature Center at Shaker Lakes – Designing a Trail for All Peoples

Written by: Kyle Lukes, PLA, ASLA

What is the All People’s Trail?

The All People’s Trail is a grand re-visioning of a wonderful project that happened thirty-five years ago to make a wetland floodplain area accessible to people of all abilities. However, over the intervening thirty-five years, the aging boardwalk has been tested and is quickly coming to the end of its life. The All People’s Trail is a re-imagination of that grand vision so many years ago. But this time, the design is being taken to the next level. The boardwalk will be widened to increase capacity and facilitate ease of passing.

We want to get mom, dad and the kids in the stroller on the trail, but also people in wheelchairs and all walks of life! The goal is to give everybody the ability to enjoy this wonderful wetland. We’ve also been able to re-imagine gathering areas, nodes as we refer to them, in creating wonderful spaces that invite you to sit, stay and enjoy for a while, not just pass through the wetlands. The nodes give visitors the opportunity to watch the animals and plants change throughout the seasons in that space. Through the re-imagining of the main entrance to the Nature Center, we’re able to make a better connection with the Nature Center’s front door and the main entrance to the All People’s Trail.

Trail entrance
All People’s Trail Entrance Rendering

What was your role in the All People’s Trail Project?

My role in the All People’s Trail was to take a hard look at the alignment of the existing boardwalk to determine:

  • How do we build this boardwalk with the existing boardwalk in place?
  • How do we remove the existing boardwalk and build the new boardwalk?
  • How do we want to travel through the spaces?

This wetland has multiple components to it. It has a sunny emergent wetland, a forest canopy, stream crossings and a margin between the forest and the emergent area. I wanted to capitalize on all the great experiences the existing boardwalk alignments provided, but also enhance those experiences by tweaking that alignment ever so slightly to set up a new experience. I was able to guide the alignment of the boardwalk, help with the development of the nodes and re-imagine the existing gathering areas into expanded use.

Proposed Re-imagined Hub Rendering

Challenges and successes

One of the unique enhancements we were able to bring to the All People’s Trail was the accessible connection from the boardwalk back to Woodland Road. We were able to remove the existing timber stairs and put in a series of ramping boardwalk segments to allow people with strollers, wheelchairs and scooters to easily move from the sidewalk network, along Woodland Road and directly onto the boardwalk. This connectivity allows for direct access to the All People’s Trail from places other than the main parking lot and will allow access to the Nature Center itself.

The biggest challenge for this project has been working within the floodplain wetlands and the requirements of the permitting process. Removing the boardwalk presents a challenge, and erecting the new boardwalk presents an equal challenge. In several locations, we’re replacing the boardwalk in place, so we had to figure out how to remove the boardwalk and build the new boardwalk right over top of the old one.

Floodplain wetland
Construction Begins on the Main Entrance

Another large challenge was the soils. Through geotechnical analysis, we discovered that we had 5-10 ft. of highly organic, mucky soils sitting directly on shale. It was an interesting circumstance because we didn’t have any lateral support in that soil. We needed to put piles all the way down to bedrock to create a sound foundation that will last the test of time.

The success of the project is the ability to build everything that we planned, which is a wonderful outcome of the bidding. But in the end, the success is the expanded capability of the users, both from a physical and accessible standpoint. Portions of the boardwalk are more accessible, allowing people in wheelchairs, scooters and strollers to access the boardwalk in more than one location.

The other success of this project is an expansion in the nodes so that the Nature Center is able to capitalize on this re-imagination of the All People’s Trail, beyond getting people access to the wetland. Through the expansion, the Nature Center has easy access for their various wetland educational programs.