Comprised of 440 acres and bisected by over two miles of the Middle Raccoon River, Hanging Rock park was one of my first professional projects of any true scale and complexity. The pre-park grounds featured several distinctive historical and natural resource elements. Provisions for rehabilitation and experiential access to these elements guided the transformation of the property into a beloved public park. 

First, existing farmstead structures were rehabilitated, allowing them to stand for another hundred years. The structures are distinctive from other farm structures of the period in that they are constructed from clay brick. The clay brick was fired approximately 1 mile north of the property at the Redfield brick and tile works (see sketchbook selections). This local clay quarry and kiln provided clay brick and brick tile to local farmers, who used the material to construct farm structures, or in the case of the tile, to lay clay tile pipe to drain thousands of acres of wetlands and convert the land into agricultural production. 

Second, agricultural farm land was restored into native prairie grasses. The species of grasses were designed to rapidly colonize the former agricultural fields, providing a prairie area in the heart of small town Iowa. Prior to restoration activities, lowland areas were investigated by University of Iowa researchers and evidence of Native American inhabitation were documented. It was determined that a small city of nearly 5,000 people lived on this land nearly 1,000 years prior. 

Third, visitor access was established. Or rather, visitor access via a park drive and a bike trail, replaced former 4WD mud ruts along the banks of the river. The new road layout took its que by retracing the former wagon trail and river ford utilized by Mormons over 100 years prior. 

Finally, riparian areas damaged by ATV and off-road vehicles were redesigned with riparian woodland and grasses. A narrow paved trail was designed to take individuals from remote parking lots and bring the visitor to the river’s edge. Once along the banks of the river, the park visitor can marvel at the stunning geological formations on the south side of the river. The trail, river and outcrops all trace the former terminal moraine.  As one stands on the north side of the river, they stand on land that was crushed by glaciers just 14,0000 years ago. As the visitors gazes across the river they witness landforms and sandstone geologic formations that are over 500,000 thousand years old. It is here, at the edge of the terminal moraine and faced with unlimited possibilities for design, that I learned the critical first step as a designer: knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do.  I also learned a valuable lesson in ecology and landscape disturbance: no matter how great the plan and restoration efforts, one spring flood and its deposition of sands and silts can swiftly change the trajectory of the best laid plans for an ecological community. My role on the project included all aspects of project evolution, from conceptual design through construction. 

redfield, ia
dallas county conservation board

designer and project manager

status: complete 1996