Robert Ryan, Chair - Jack Ahern, Member - Ethan Carr, Member
Almost fifty years ago Freeman Tilden suggested that outdoor places have an ability to speak for themselves (1957). They each impart their own set of unique experiences for visitors, fostering the senses of fascination, attachment and understanding. This alluring voice may, in part, explain why nature centers, botanical gardens and other informal learning sites with interpretive trails have grown in popularity. Such sites attract roughly 420 million visitors a year worldwide, making them prime locations for increasing public awareness and action toward broader environmental issues (Jones 2001, 11). Yet, as interpretive trails become a ubiquitous part of the landscape, their effectiveness as a means of environmental education is facing scrutiny. In particular, criticisms have disparaged the common form of interpretive trails, which usually focuses on visitor circulation through a series of views, displays and specimens, or on objects with associated educational signage (Knapp and Barrie 1999; Kerry 1979; Cable et al. 1987; Poff 2001). While seeking to educate, these trails often fail to provide people with a full experience of the landscape, or with meaningful opportunities to connect with it.
Perhaps more than any discipline, landscape architecture strives to enhance the rich relationship between humans and their surroundings. Careful analysis and disign can reveal landscapes that have been lost or damaged by our fast-paced societies, reawakening the full potential of human experiences they have to offer. This design project holds that very basic approaches within the discipline, such as using land forms and plant materials to vary experiences of space, light, topography, sight, and sound, can, in themselves enhance a person's innate understanding of their surroundings.
The goal of the following design is to suggest how the landscape at the New England Wildflower Society's (NEWFS) Nasami Farm could be experienced by visitors through an ecologically sensitive and site appropriate network of interpretive trails. The trail system's design relies upon direct physical experiences and interactions with the landscape as core components of the site's broader environmental education program.