Red Oak Rain Garden’s Final Phase: The Bridge

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The Urbana campus has welcomed a new notable landmark: the recently redesigned Red Oak Rain Garden, complete with a brilliant, locally culled wood pedestrian bridge. Completed in June, the bridge is made of local Black Locust wood from Allerton Park & Retreat Center with high tension cable railing. It is 40-feet long, 42-inches tall, and 9-feet wide.

The garden is located in Urbana between Allen Residence Hall and McKinley Health Center.

The bridge was constructed as a way to improve pedestrian safety while offering a detailed and vivid user experience and promoting growth opportunities for the garden. The original garden was one of F&S’s early sustainability initiatives led by the Environmental Compliance department. “The design provides a path that honors how people want to move through the location, without harming the trees or impeding the garden’s function as a rainwater management practice” said Eliana Brown, Red Oak Rain Garden director and Extension water quality specialist.

“Additionally, it gives people a sense of immersion in a natural area – even if only for the time it takes to cross over the garden.” The design of the bridge was approved by the F&S Architectural Review Committee (ARC), led in this case by Brent Lewis, Capital Programs, university landscape architect. “ARC looks at the university as a whole to discern whether some elements go in with the design aesthetic of campus,” said Lewis. “But you also look at areas more locally to see if they fit in aesthetically in a contextual way. That bridge wouldn’t look right on most of the campus, but in this garden space, next to housing, this fits. It is the right use of the materials and the right look for that space. These are elements that last a long time, are more natural, and help us safeguard the rain garden.”

Lewis did note the same high tension cable railing is also used at the southern expansion of Talbot Laboratory. The garden features 54 forbs, shrubs, and grasses planted in order to best manage rainwater, which has in the past collected into big pools, endangering the red oak’s health, and making for messy, unsafe pedestrian and bike pathways. Environmental art also lines the walkways. In June, for instance, “The rain garden experienced its first major rain event post-renovation. The garden successfully soaked up 5.24 inches of rain in four days with no flooding issues,” according to a publicly-available RORG report (https://redoakraingarden.org/activityreports/).

The bridge allows pedestrians to enjoy the sights and sounds of the garden, to give an idea of the scale and value of the trees and plants. Even the railing helps a visitor more fully understand the garden.

“Generally, bridges are built keeping in mind how the view looks over the railing,” said Lewis. “But if you go over in a wheelchair, you’ll just see the picket or guard rails. This way we can showcase beautiful plants, and careful planning and design and care and maintenance. It makes for a more universal experience for all people.”

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