Protection and Management Plan for the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center

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Cultural

Access and Circulation 

The general recommended approach to managing access to the marsh proper is to establish a formal series of portals and entry points. This aids in legibility and orientation, and implies a level of care and watchfulness that can encourage positive user tendencies. A few informal "portals" already exist to some degree, and others will need to be constructed. The primary point of vehicular ingress would occur on Farm 12, as shown on Map 8. After considerable deliberation both on-site and with the Advisory Committee and local public, it seems most appropriate to site the main entry point along the flat portion of Puddintown Road. Traffic sight lines at the point are the best available along Farm 12 frontage, and ingress to the adjacent front field is unencumbered. Incoming traffic flow would veer immediately to the right to access the graveled parking lot, situated as shown on the plan to minimize visual impact and provide a discreet, but highly experiential, pedestrian entry sequence into the core farmyard area. A double wire mesh fence row (Map 9, "R") would appropriately mirror the existing tractor path extending north from the barn, providing a sense of rhythm and perspective that should prove quite interesting. This type of fencing would also provide an effective but porous separation between pedestrians and any livestock that may be grazing the front field (Map 9 "F"). Service, handicapped and emergency access are handled via the existing or modified entry lane near the farmhouse.

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A single, formal portal (Maps 8 and 9) is identified to the rear of the barnyard to serve as primary access to Millbrook Marsh proper, providing a transition from the Cultural Zone into the more natural elements of the site. It would be accessed via a stone dust path paralleling the existing fencerow (Map 9, "R3"). This route, in fact, seems to have served as the informal link between barnyard and wetland for some time. Completing a radial pattern of three tractor paths set on cardinal axes, its rather honest directness is reflective of the historically rectilinear order of the farmstead, would be in distinct contrast to the organic path network of adjacent fields and the wetlands beyond.

The portal itself is the most important transition point on site. It represents both a physical and symbolic passage from "cultural" to "natural" landscape setting, provoking a calmer demeanor and heightened sensory awareness as one enters the immersive wetland environment. Structurally, it would consist of a slightly raised timber platform to serve as gathering node and to facilitate visitor orientation. A boardwalk would extend easterly from the platform into the marsh and stream complex.

As shown Map 8, a phased network of paths, boardwalks, viewing structure and bridges is envisioned. The length of boardwalk has not been precisely determined, but is estimated to be about 300 m (1,000 ft) long. Several sets of construction materials have been considered, but at present our recommendation is to proceed with a wooden structure, similar in pattern to the one built at the Wildwood Lake Sanctuary in Dauphin Co. (Photos 10A and 10B). The construction can be phased as indicated to better manage financial constraints. There are several vistas located along the boardwalk and one or two of these could support a wildlife hide or blind that would allow better chances to observe wildlife. These would be built on spurs off the main boardwalk route to provide a more serene experience for both the observer and the wildlife.

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Access along the east side of the marsh will be almost entirely by foot or bicycle. Visitors may currently approach the southeast corner of the site by foot or bike via the existing asphalt path that passes through the large Slab Cabin Run culvert beneath College Avenue. The de facto trail head parking lot at the College Township offices will not be encouraged as a point of vehicular access, since no control mechanisms are available, and current parking capacity cannot expand to oblige alternate uses.

Ingress for pedestrian and cyclists coining in from the northeast is likewise well-established along the bike path that cuts under the Highway 322 bypass and links up to Spring Creek Park and the Houserville neighborhood. Access to the north and west banks of Slab Cabin Run near the bypass is currently under development. The passage along side Puddintown Road beneath the overpass and over the Slab Cabin Run bridge is being widened to accommodate a bicycle lane. A combination of rough surfacing and steel traffic barriers could be installed to limit pedestrian accessibility, if desirable.

It is anticipated that a more formalized network of portals, paths and boardwalks will be most effective in managing pedestrian circulation in the marsh proper. As noted in the Principles section, low-intensity passive access along the streams and through the marsh apart from the formal trail network will not be aggressively discouraged. Rather, the intention is that the combined effects of an attractive infrastructure and proactive educational programs will serve to minimize off-trail activities to a sustainably low level.

Activities and Structures

Although a large variety of activities can be envisioned for the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center, it is prudent to take an incremental approach, cautiously building the program and evaluating each step for effectiveness and fit with the site’s opportunities and constraints. From a planning perspective, emphasis should be placed on program areas rather than individual activities; these should reflect landscape patterns and underlying processes, and should take advantage of interpretive opportunities where they may be found. Just as an adaptive approach to natural resource management has been advocated, so too should programming and related structures be flexibly linked to the Center’s mission and goals.

The previously-described management zones (Map 8) should provide the primary framework for establishing activities in appropriate areas of the site. However, an idealized conception for activities and structures is given in Map 9. To avoid the static qualities of many master plans, it should be seen as an attempt to "kick-start" the process of visualizing the immense possibilities that are inherent in the site and that are represented in its already broad constituency. The plan essentially gives form to the management zones and translates ideas first raised in the discussion of Principles.

Briefly, the concept plan attempts to balance ecological and cultural forces at work on Farm 12 and the adjacent natural areas. It stresses protection of wetland resources, careful transitions/linkages between lowland and upland, a more sustainable landscape management approach, and the siting of outdoor activities and structures to take advantage of both existing and proposed features. As befits a nature center, it obliges utilities and infrastructure in a minimalist fashion, stressing integration with site qualities over efficiency. Specific activities proposed for the Farm 12 complex and wetland, by zone, include:

Wetland-Riparian Zone

 general: nature education and appreciation, angling, hiking, limited scientific research

specific:

• main marsh entry portal via the boardwalk, discussed above.

• stream and marsh study and appreciation along the boardwalk and path system

• stream study along Bathgate Spring Run

• observation platforms/wildlife hides

At this time our recommendation is to restrict group activities in this zone to no more than 12 people. Repetitive use of informal paths in the wetland will have significant (and eventually long-term) negative effects on the vegetation and soils. Even when the boardwalk is available, more than 12 people in a group will degrade the experience for those in attendance. For larger groups, we suggest staging at intervals, and sending small groups to different areas and then comparing experiences later.

Transition-Buffer Zone

 general: nature education / appreciation, access to stream and wetlands, research and outdoor group activities.

specific:

• pond study

• outdoor activity spaces and possible small group camping area (possibly in "H")

• interpretive stations focusing on ecological succession and invasive species

• active involvement in revegetation and habitat demonstration projects

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Cultural Zone

general: study of cultural heritage and natural history, general environmental education, farm-related activities, team-building games, interpretation and celebration of the site’s values and the surrounding region through art, drama, and the written word.

specific:

• forebay bank barn; multi-use three-season facility; possible marsh viewing opportunities from the barn, silos, or new structures ("M")

• barnyard "hub" ("P"); primary outdoor orientation and gathering area on Farm 12; site of group games

• sunshelters for informal small group activities and storage of related equipment; several locations have been proposed on draft master plans for the building complex

• pasture conversion studies ("F, H, I"); studies of sustainable agriculture, old field succession, etc.

• habitat creation projects and activity area ("L")

There are several specific projects we would like to suggest that are most appropriate for the Cultural Zone, but provide linkages to the more natural portions of the site. Since it is likely that many visitors will not venture into the wetland itself, installation of a closed-circuit video camera system would be an exciting way to bring the wetland and its inhabitants to the visitor, particularly those that are disabled. The camera would have a remote control to pan and zoom into various areas and a capability to switch to separate scenes (this would require multiple cameras). Of particular interest would be observations of any raptor or waterfowl breeding structures, the bird feeding area, and scenes of the marsh, particularly during flooding events.

There are two projects that are suitable for inclusion in the lower part of the barn. The first involves creation of a "pond/wetland" room (Photo 1 1A and 1 1B). Here, the visitor enters as if they were a small aquatic creature underneath the water. Instructional displays, including a possible live, magnified video view of aquatic organisms, are easily accessible. The second, which could be part of this room, involves creation of a simulated beaver lodge (using actual beaver-chewed sticks and logs) in a profile view. As the master of wetland creation, and an occasional inhabitant of the wetland, information about beaver always appeals to visitors of all ages. Both of these exhibits would benefit from having water piped through the lower barn from the Bathgate Spring Run.

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A Concluding Recommendation

This Plan, and the Principles and Recommendations included within it, are designed to guide first, the protection of the site, and second, how management should proceed. What we have presented here is but a beginning to the many projects, activities, and facilities that can happen at Millbrook. There will be other issues and concerns that arise in time that we did not address or even anticipate in this plan. Questions such as "Is my activity taking place in the proper zone?" and "How does this activity or facility relate to the listed goals and principles of this plan?", should constantly be asked. We have tried to prepare a document that can help answer those questions and meet the needs of the Center in the future. As a living document, it should be reviewed, updated, and reconfirmed every five years. The managing organization for the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center has sought professional and public input as they have developed programs for the site and its visitors, and they should continue to do so in the years to come, If the past year is a good example, then the community has already embraced the site and is willing to devote significant amounts of time and funds to make this place - the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center - a great place to visit.

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