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CASE STUDY: Millbrook Marsh Nature Center

Theodore Thwing


Millbrook Marsh Site Plan

figure 1 | Master Plan for Millbrook Marsh Nature Center

In summer 2013, I came across some plans posted on College Township’s website to expand an existing parking lot at the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center, which is located down the street from where I live in State College. I contacted Jennifer Shuey and Alan Sam, the Chair & Vice Chair of the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center’s Advisory Committee respectively, with some questions related to the plans. On Oct. 15th, 2013, Robert Lingenfelter and I met with Jennifer Shuey (recently resigned Executive Director of the ClearWater Conservancy [CWC]), Molly Hetrick (Recreation Supervisor for the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center) and another representative from Centre Region Parks & Recreation. At the meeting, I expressed an interest in further developing green infrastructure, as an educational storm water management feature, through enhanced rain garden design for the parking lot expansion. They discussed this proposal with Millbrook Marsh Nature Center’s Parks & Rec Advisory Committee. The committee decided that it would be better to leave the storm water management to the originally contracted engineering firm, so as not to breach any contracts or professional relationships.

Millbrook Marsh Barn

figure 2 | Downspout at corner of existing Millbrook Marsh Nature Center Barn.

The following summer, I was working as a volunteer through a different organization, Transition Towns State College (TTSC), on a CWC Garden Starter’s project, which involved installation and maintenance of demonstration garden plots at the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center. Bill Sharp, the local leader of TTSC, who was later appointed to College Township Council, asked me to help him design and install rain barrels that connect to a down spout of a barn on site.

I mentioned to Bill that I had earlier proposed to help with a storm water garden demonstration plot as part of the new parking lot expansion, and suggested perhaps we could make a connection to the overflow from rain barrels to an adjacent garden. He agreed that it would be a good idea, considering that the overflow from the barn roof would far exceed the amount of water collected in the rain barrel installation.

Rain Barrel Drawing

figure 3 | Sketch of rain barrel and rain garden location.

I then put together a quick plan demonstrating the location of the rain barrel and the proposed location of the associated rain garden. I sent the sketch to Molly Hetrick and Bill Sharp, and they were both excited with the possibility of implementing the rain barrel and rain garden together. They showed the sketches to the Advisory Committee, who wanted to first install the rain barrels fully before deciding whether the rain garden would be an option. In fall 2014, I met with Bill Sharp to install the rain barrels and the down spouts were connected.

Rain Barrels

figure 4 | The township finalized the down spout connection to the rain barrel installation in spring 2015.

Although the rain barrels have been installed, we have yet to submit rain barrel garden planting plans to the Advisory Committee. However, in summer 2014, we had our summer intern in WMF’s State College office prepare some landscape planting sketches for the rain barrel garden in her down time (Figure 5). I plan to reconnect with Molly Hetrick and Bill Sharp this summer to see if they would be interested in developing these sketches further to submit to the Advisory Committee. My hope is that submittal of the conceptual plans could lead to a small demonstration rain garden plot at the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center, which will help the Center achieve the goal of being a wetland/water laboratory. I also believe the rain garden could help the site earn LEED credits.

Case Study Conclusion

Intern Garden Plans

figure 5 | Mariya’s (summer intern’s) planting plans

Pro-bono work is a slow process that can provide an avenue through which to establish relationships with people who make development decisions. The Millbrook Marsh Nature Center case study demonstrates that it can be difficult to implement a project without prior established relationships, especially if it breaches previous professional contracts. In this case, it was easier to implement work selected through people and organizations that already had pre-established relationships and goals. In the same light, working indirectly though other organizations with pre-established goals and relationships can have drawbacks if your objectives are not aligned with theirs. This case study also demonstrates how expressing interest in one project may lead to another, and involvement in one organization can lead to new partnerships with others. In the end, if the objective is to secure relationships that lead to future work, then it may be wise to work directly through pre-established contacts who have more leverage than you in getting buy in. This pro-bono work has helped me establish relationship with members of College Township Council, Centre Region Parks and Recreation, the Clear Water Conservancy, which I hope to leverage to open up avenues for bringing in future work to our company.