Integrating Innovative Storm Water Treatment Facilities into Park Design

Capital Cascades Park in Tallahassee, FL

Flood protection, stormwater treatment, and groundwater recharge are not often topics highlighted as key elements when describing exciting new park designs. More often, we focus on tangible, high-profile features like playgrounds, ball fields, entertainment plazas and event lawns and other spaces where memories are made. Focusing on these prominent features, may discount the environmental significance of stormwater treatment facilities. Capital Cascades Trail and Park in Tallahassee, FL and Historic Fourth Ward Park in Atlanta, GA are two parks that flipped the script: making storm water treatment facilities central features and gathering places. Both parks saw great benefits in storm water treatment and reductions in system wide costs while creating beautiful water-oriented public gathering places. They also made innovative stormwater treatment facilities their central organizing elements.

In both Capital Cascades Park and Historic Fourth Ward Park, the intersection of park and stormwater funds have come together to mitigate stormwater impacts and lead to a cleaner, more cost effective stormwater management system. Both share the goal of developing great places for people to enjoy the out of doors while improving downstream water quality, reducing runoff and increasing ground water recharge. Each park curates their own flood protection management system to meet the needs of the region at large and bring a new level of sustainability.

Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency in Tallahassee, Florida established regional stormwater management goals for the FAMU Way and Capital Cascades Park and Trail System. Improvements within this new roadway and greenway system were to mitigate stormwater flooding along a new east-west roadway from South Monroe Street to Lake Bradford Road, a distance of approximately 1.5 miles. The corridor also provides increased connectivity to the burgeoning Gaines Street and CollegeTown districts, creating a link between FAMU and Florida State University. This $34 million project was designed to reduce flooding, improve storm water quality and function as a water conveyance project at lower costs than building a conventional storm water system.

This project included the replacement of the open ditches that experienced frequent and significant flooding with a new and innovative management system. Starting at the “Pharmacy Pond”, being the discharge epicenter for the district, this project runs as a central drainage corridor connecting the St. Augustine Branch Basin and traveling east to west. “Lake Anita” and Anita Favors Plaza function as the parks central gathering place and is designed to receive and detain large volumes of storm water moving through the system. Water levels in this exciting new basin rise and fall responding to rainfall in the region, and is treated and released at a slower rate with much improved water quality, reducing downstream flooding.

As noted by Dan Scheer, Design and Construction manager for Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency, this park was essentially a water quality and water conveyance project.

“The innovation behind the stormwater management was to convert a ditch, known as the ‘FAMU ditch’ into a dual box culvert system extending along the Capital Cascades trail, picking up all the water and conveying it more efficiently into holding ponds along the trail system. The ponds create hydraulic stops that essentially slow the water down and treating it prior to being released. Moreover, storm water is released at a much slower rate than it would have if it were all piped, mitigating downstream flooding.”

Capital Cascades Park and Trail have been very well received by the members of the community. As Dan mentioned, it is “The Soul of the Southside.” The added features stemming from this project include walking trails, an amphitheater with seating for over 3000 people, discovery play area for children, outdoor green space for recreation and monuments for individuals to explore. Those who use this area are running, walking with friends or family, riding bikes to and from work, and enjoying the well thought out piece of land given to them. Capital Cascades Park and trail is quickly approaching a million users and will soon be surpassing this huge milestone. The next phases include the History and Culture Trail to celebrate and highlight the history and culture of the neighborhoods and businesses along FAMU Way through artistic, cultural, and historical interpretative kiosks that will display images, photographs, and historic information.

Through good stewardship of resources, there are endless possibilities to mitigate stormwater while simultaneously creating recreation experiences for people to enjoy. Another project that exemplifies these characteristics is Historic Fourth Ward Park in Atlanta, Georgia. This park is sited along the Atlanta BeltLine which encompasses many parks and multi-use trails and transit opportunities within a 22-mile loop surrounding the city.

According to Kevin Burke, Director of Design for the BeltLine, the innovations accomplished with this project saved the City of Atlanta millions by providing alternatives to conventional storm water tunneling and construction costs. To give a background of why Historic Fourth Ward Park is innovative in all aspects of design and implementation, we must start all the way back to 1926. Burke shared how much the investment of the Atlanta BeltLine project has changed the economic development of the area.

“Ponce City Market started in 1926 and was placed at the nexus of three watersheds. In fall of 2009, Atlanta had a 500+ year storm event that flooded the loading docks of Ponce City Market (PCM) at a time when the city was trying to sell the site. Historic Fourth Ward Park was designed to reduce occurrences of downstream flooding and create a new city park for events and outdoor use. Following the parks opening, Jamestown Properties closed on buying PCM, to secure the efficacy of the storm water flood mitigation system. Concurrently and after, other developers started building around the park. All inclusive, there is +/- $1.7 billion in new development within one block of Historical Fourth Ward Park. About twenty percent of the total BeltLine project’s economic development has occurred adjacent to this park”

The cost of the stormwater pond construction was around $25 million, saving millions compared to the estimate of $50 to $75 million in construction costs for conventional storm water tunnels and piping. Historic Fourth Ward Park was designed around this central water feature that functions as a regional stormwater detention basin mitigating downstream flooding while creating a beautiful new center piece. This 17 acre park is located between North Avenue and Freedom Parkway on the Eastside of Atlanta and played an important role in transforming a largely vacant and underutilized industrial district into a thriving and vibrant neighborhood. The park also includes event lawns, a skate park, an interactive playground and splash pad, plazas, public art and a soccer field.

The central landscape of Historic Fourth Ward Park has also been well received. Many in the community get together with friends and family to walk, picnic, and enjoy the scenery around them. The active and passive recreation availability in this area has brought many activities such as yoga classes on a multi-purpose field, a playground, a skate park for skaters to enjoy and learn new tricks, concerts where people can gather and enjoy music and a splash-pad for the kids to run around and cool-off after a warm day.

The activities happening within Historic Fourth Ward Park, Capital Cascades Park, and more are all in relation to the healthy storm water management system and the goal shared by those around to make a healthy community and culture.