Illinois

A Conversation With Landscape Architect Elisabeth Lardner

Landscape architect Elisabeth Lardner, who helped design the new visitor amenities at Nachusa Grasslands, has a long history with prairie conservation. We had a chance to sit down with Elisabeth and she shared her memories of this incredible habitat, as well as the vision behind the amenities that we hope to complete late next summer. Click here to donate to this project!

TNC:

You grew up around prairies. Could you tell us a little bit about that experience?

Elisabeth:

My mom, Marion Lardner, taught at Earl Hanson School in Rock Island and wanted to plant a prairie with her students. In 1978, Doug Wade, a former steward at Nachusa, visited to help her figure out how to do so. He coached her on which seeds to buy, helped design the outline and scale of the planting. This was just one of the prairie and school garden plantings that she instigated so I have many memories of spending time on the prairie.

TNC:

What considerations did you and the rest of the design team take into account
for the Nachusa visitor amenities?

Elisabeth:

Ultimately, our design plans were inspired by the prairie itself and incorporated three elements to help the structure become a part of the landscape. First, the horizontal orientation of the prairie and its geology are reflected in the low-pitched roof and the limestone seat walls. Second, prairie plants are reflected in the structural columns, which are canted at angles to resemble swaying grasses. And lastly, the sky is represented in the metal roof, which shows a reflection of sun and clouds.

TNC:

What types of features will the new amenities include? How are they unique?

Elisabeth:

There will be 14 new parking spaces, making it easier for all visitors to leave their cars and explore the prairie. A paved path will guide visitors to the structure and interpretive exhibits. Also, two self-composting restrooms will be available. Because they don’t rely on water or electricity, these facilities will have a low-carbon footprint. All of these features follow guidelines from the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Additionally, we’re really excited about some features that will help the next generation engage with this special place. There is a new location for bus parking and turnaround, which will accommodate school buses and other tours. We are also placing a hand pump on top of the well head at the structure, which will supply cold, potable water for thirsty visitors, or a place where kids can cool off and get their feet wet!

TNC:

How will the amenities help people connect to nature?

Elisabeth:

The sequence of the amenities is designed to draw people into the prairie. Once they arrive, there are a total of nine interpretive signs that explain the importance of this habitat and the Conservancy’s role in protecting it. Many are visiting Nachusa to see the bison, so this is a great opportunity to teach them about the prairie, the history and importance of the preserve, its unique flowers and wildlife, how it provides for people and nature and how they can get involved.


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