Green Therapy

The teens in the rehab program can’t have drugs, so they use the waterfall instead.

That’s how Lily Mank BSLA’15 explains the fact that when patients first visit the healing garden at the Rosecrance Griffin Williamson adolescent substance abuse facility in Rockford, Ill., they choose to sit near the cascading water.

“I think the drugs numb their emotions, and when they don’t have access to drugs, they become very raw, very sensitive to their thoughts,” says Mank. “They need the stimulation of the waterfall, the white noise, to quiet themselves down.

“They move away from the waterfall as they become more comfortable with their thoughts and more able to be balanced within themselves,” she says. “That’s a sign that they’re getting ready to leave the program.”

Mank doesn’t know if her explanation is right, but she plans to find out in her ongoing research of nature restoration.

The five-acre garden, designed by master Japanese landscape designer Hoichi Kurisu, is incorporated into every part of the highly successful 12-step addiction treatment program at the Rosecrance facility. It’s a powerful tool for clearing the minds of the 12- to 18-year-old patients.

It was also powerful for Mank. Since working in the garden as an intern in her junior year of the CALS landscape architecture program, she has made healing landscapes her career focus. She went on to do a senior thesis focused on improving nature access at a Wisconsin mental health hospital. She also earned a certificate in health care garden design at the Chicago Botanical Gardens and interned at Ziegler Design Associates, a company owned by Steve Ziegler BS’83 and Joan Werner-Ziegler BS’78, CALS alums who specialize in designing healing spaces.

Mank still thinks about the waterfall. How, exactly, she wonders, does spending time in the Rosecrance garden—or in any peaceful outdoor space—help settle an unsettled mind?

That’s a great question, says Sam Dennis. It’s right at the heart of what he studies as a professor and director of the Environmental Design Laboratory (EDL) in the CALS Department of Landscape Architecture (LA). While the LA department is best known for its work on environmental restoration—techniques people can use to heal damaged natural environments—Dennis and his team at the EDL flip that around. They’re finding ways to incorporate nature into human-made environments to restore the health of people. Dennis’s projects employ thoughtful outdoor design to help people eat better and get more exercise and to create safer, calmer and more cohesive neighborhoods.

Health-conscious design has always been on the department’s radar. In 1981, 10 years before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Steve Ziegler was encouraged to do his senior thesis on barrier-free design in elder care facilities. But today the topic is getting much more attention.

As one example, assistant professor Kristin Thorleifsdottir has been reworking the curriculum to make sure students get a good grounding in the burgeoning area of science that looks at connections between health and the built environment.

The native Icelander offers three classes on the topic, including a new sophomore-level design class in landscape architecture and a graduate seminar that attracts students from landscape architecture, interior architecture, urban and regional planning,health care and other disciplines. She touches on history—from the cities of the ancient Greeks to the urban squalor of the Industrial Revolution—but most of what she covers starts in the 1980s.

In a 1984 study, Texas A&M design professor Roger Ulrich found that postsurgical patients who had a view of trees from their hospital windows were released sooner, took less pain medication and experienced fewer complications than did patients who had a view of a blank wall.

“Ulrich’s study was the first that looked at health and design,” she says. “Since then there have been a lot more.” Those studies span diverse disciplines—urban planning, public health, pediatrics, psychology, gerontology, neurobiology, art, horticulture and forestry, to name a few—which means those who study the topic must learn several lexicons.

“The fields of public health and design speak very different languages,” Thorleifsdottir notes. “Design researchers tend to take a more qualitative approach—they look at how people experience the environment. Public health is very much into quantitative measures.”

Her own research focuses on health at the community level, including studies on neighborhood design and children’s outdoor physical activities. She’s embarking on two new studies, one of them on the quality of public city parks and the availability of settings for mental restoration, a collaborative project with research partners in Sweden and Serbia.

Sam Dennis has become pretty fluent in the language of public health. As part of UW–Madison’s campus-wide Obesity Prevention Initiative, his partners include researchers in nutritional sciences and family medicine. Body mass index (BMI) is a common research metric, and a recent study involved drawing blood. That project, a collaboration with the Madison-based nonprofit Community Groundworks, used a garden-based curriculum to teach young people to eat better.

“Rather than ask how much the students eat, the researchers took a blood sample. You could tell by levels of serum carotenoids in blood whether they were eating fruits and vegetables,” Dennis explains.

Dennis doesn’t wield the syringes. While his collaborators collect data on human health, he assesses how well the urban landscape supports it. He works with residents of underserved urban neighborhoods to identify features that either facilitate or impede physical activity, healthy eating and safety.

To collect the data, the EDL team has developed an innovative (and now widely replicated) tool that they dubbed “participatory photo mapping.” The researchers ask neighborhood residents—often kids—to photograph things that they see as barriers to healthy living, and then ask them to write stories explaining the photos.

“They tell the stories, then we geo-locate the stories and photos with GIS, so we can overlay their stories and images with, say, traffic data, or data about pedestrians and bicyclists getting hit by cars, or crime rates.”

Often the stories lead to simple fixes, such as repainting crosswalks, adding pedestrian signals or hiring a playground supervisor so that parents feel reassured about their kids using a local park.

But residents also point out problems that are pretty surprising—and tough to solve. Dennis recounts what Latino kids in South Madison had to say about a nearby city bike path.

“They say they’re not welcome there because the bike path is for white people—that you’ve got to be rich and have a special kind of bike,” Dennis says. “The literature says the presence of a bike trail significantly reduces the body mass index of everyone around it, but the kids aren’t using it because they don’t see it as their space. Instead, they ride on busy streets.”

“They’re very sensitive to where they feel welcome,” Dennis notes. “Mapping that is part of mapping their well-being.”

Stories like these are important, Dennis says, because they point to health problems that can’t be diagnosed by calculating body mass or drawing blood.

“Physiological things like body mass index are important, but so is our mental well-being,” Dennis says. “There’s a lot of research suggesting that chronic stress experienced by people with low incomes helps explains disparities in health across different environments. As environmental design researchers, we try to figure out the source of that stress and then see what we can do to reduce it through changes in the built environment.”

Spending time in a natural setting can relieve stress, but that’s not guaranteed. That was underscored by another of Dennis’ projects, a survey that looks at the benefits of natural outdoor classrooms at more than 200 early childhood care facilities across the U.S. and Canada.

Rapid staff turnover is a problem among early childhood care providers, due to low wages and very high stress. But according to the teachers surveyed, spending time in a green, natural environment during the workday helped compensate for the downsides.

“Their mental well-being is better supported when they can spend time in these natural settings,” Dennis says. He attributes this to a process known as attention restoration: We become mentally exhausted in situations where we have to make ourselves pay attention; our minds recover when doing things that are so inherently interesting that paying attention is effortless. Engaging with the natural world fits the latter category. But you really have to engage.

“The natural environment supports attention restoration if the teachers were using all of their senses to experience the natural environment in a loosely focused way, as opposed to the tight focus they give to their indoor lessons,” Dennis says. “It’s important that they aren’t ‘traffic cops’ or hypervigilant monitors like they typically are in a traditional playground setting—that they can engage with kids as they play in nature.”

Job stress is part of the job for caregivers at the UnityPoint Health–Meriter Child and Adolescent Psychiatric (CAP) Hospital, even though there’s plenty of nature nearby. The facility sits on a secluded wooded hilltop on the western edge of Madison. But while things outside are quiet and serene, inside a very different story plays out. The young patients who come here struggle with attention and impulsivity disorders, anxiety and depression—conditions that have made it hard to function in everyday life. Many, especially the teenagers, are at risk for suicide.

“We hear a lot of hard stories here,” says Karen Larson, the CAP program nurse manager. Mental illness in children can be as hard on families and staff as it is on the children, she points out.

Hospital staff members were excited when the program moved to this bucolic spot from its former downtown location in 2004. But they soon realized that there wasn’t a way to incorporate the green surroundings into the treatment of their emotionally fragile patients.

“We started looking at the evidence about the impact of a natural environment on depression, anxiety and well-being, and what it could mean to our patients,” Larson says, “and we realized how much better it could be.”

With research in hand, the Child and Adolescent team contacted their employer’s philanthropic partners—the Meriter Foundation and Friends of Meriter—about raising funds to create a healing space for the patients. She emphasized that she wasn’t asking for landscaping.

“I compared it to purchasing an orthopedic tool that would allow somebody to have their hip replaced,” Larson recalls. “In psychiatry, one tool is the engagement of patients and staff in their environment. The more beautiful, less stressful and skillfully planned the environment, the better the tool.”

After a successful fundraising campaign, Meriter hired Ziegler Design Associates to create the healing garden. It was a good fit. The firm has worked extensively with caregiving facilities and has developed many creative outdoor spaces for youth for schools.

“It was a very special opportunity, to be able to bring healing into the landscape for kids and families and staff who needed it so badly,” says Steve Ziegler. “But it was also a complicated design challenge. A typical hospital healing garden wouldn’t work here.”

“In a psychiatric population, safety is a primary concern,” Larson says. “And a psychiatric population of minors is vulnerable on so many levels. We needed to make the space beautiful and usable and child-friendly and calming—and also safe and secure.”

This garden wouldn’t have secluded spots for quiet contemplation. There couldn’t be any trees big enough or grass tall enough to screen a staff member’s view of patients. No sharp edges, no loose objects that could be thrown (bricks were glued together). Joan Werner-Ziegler, the firm’s perennial plant specialist, researched plants for toxicity and potential reactions with medications. Steve Ziegler spent several days looking for nicely rounded boulders with serene colors.

“I stayed away from bright colors,” he says. “If you’re under psychological stress, abrupt changes can trigger a lot more emotion than they would in you or me. Our colors are wonderful, but not jarring. We chose pavements that didn’t reflect glare, because some drugs make patients’ eyes sensitive.”

They ended up with a space that’s compact enough for careful supervision while offering a variety of places to be or wander. There’s a “traditional” garden (to remind patients of home), a stepping garden with pathways through the plants, a grass garden, a prairie sensory garden and a separate garden for horticultural therapy.

You can tell the space works, says Larson, by watching the patients: “They just naturally settle. They settle into the chairs, they sit on the boulders, they sprawl on the ground, they kick balls around. They just settle into the space.”

More important, Larson adds, the garden helps get the kids talking.

“When you work with kids who are psychiatrically hospitalized, you’re trying to help them express their feelings,” she says. “If you just start asking questions, they are likely to shut down.

But if you go for a walk, they’re more likely to start talking. It’s true for all of us: If we’re feeling comfortable, we can talk about things that are really hard to talk about. And that’s what we have to do here.”

The healing garden also works wonders for the staff.

“When you work in a caregiving field, you give so much,” Larson says. “Your successes can be small and the challenges can be huge. You have to bring your best self every day. And then many of us go home to stressful lives. So if part of your workday can be restorative, it’s a wonderful gift.”

Meanwhile, Lily Mank is still intrigued by that waterfall. Now a CALS grad student, she’s teaming up with Sam Dennis and Kristin Thorleifsdottir on research to understand how all elements of a garden ease patients’ minds as they address their addiction issues.

Her goal is to help designers view healing gardens not just as a collection of streams, pathways, plantings and benches, but also in terms of how those features allow patients to interact with nature. At the waterfall, a patient may simultaneously be sensing rushing water, the breeze, the coolness of shade, light dappling through the leaves and fish moving in the nearby pool. There are many possible interactions with nature, she says, and they can combine in many ways to evoke different emotions.

“I’m trying to find out how different interactions with nature make patients feel. If I understand that, it can be another way to think about garden design,” she says.

And if patients have a better understanding about how their interactions with nature make them feel, they can use that to continue healing when they get back home.

“They won’t have access to a garden like the one at Rosecrance, but they can still seek out places that let them encounter nature in ways that make them feel calm,” Mank says. “A healing garden can be anywhere.”

SIDEBAR—Healing With a Hoe

When Mike Maddox MS’00 signed on as Rock County’s UW–Extension horticulture agent in 2003, he thought gardening was about growing plants. Some tough-talking convicts convinced him otherwise.

Maddox was leading gardening workshops at Janesville’s Rotary Botanical Gardens when he got a call from the Rock County Jail asking if he could he teach some inmates. He figured he’d be working with some tough customers, and he was right—to start with.

“The first time these guys came out, they had this machismo attitude,” Maddox recalls. “They were too big and bad to be out there gardening. But after a few weeks, they were talking about how they used to work in the garden with their grandmas. And if they had kids, they were saying, ‘I need to get my kids out here doing this.’”

At the same time, Maddox was getting good news from the jail. On the days they’d been gardening, the prisoners were better behaved.

The experience was a career-changer for Maddox. It showed him that working with plants could be a powerful restorative tool, and he wanted to learn more. He got some formal training, first in Minnesota, and then in Colorado, where he earned a certificate in horticultural therapy. Now, as director of UW–Extension’s Master Gardener program, he trains 3,000 volunteers, and horticultural therapy is one of his favorite and most popular workshop topics. He’s also helping the Meriter Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Hospital staff incorporate horticultural therapy into their treatment program.

Maddox doesn’t usually lead horticultural therapy sessions himself, but he likes to keep his hand in it. So on Thursday mornings during the growing season, you’ll find him in a courtyard garden at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison. It features waist-level planting beds and wide walkways to accommodate the patients— many of them grizzled men leaning on canes or sitting in wheelchairs—who are busy planting and watering.

“It’s kind of a phenomenal process,” says Diane Neal, the hospital’s recreational therapist. “There is a positiveness that comes with being able to plant seeds and have them sprout. If the patients enjoy gardening and participate while they’re rehabbing, it raises their self-esteem and keeps them from being depressed.”

Nearby, Maddox is getting an earful. A U.S. Army veteran named August grew up on a Racine County truck farm, and he’s adamant that the VA garden is too small for corn. Maddox loves the give and take. He’s thrilled that August is so engaged.

“In this kind of a closed setting, where depression and isolation can be high and self-esteem can be low, you’ve got to create a spot where they can feel wanted and needed and purposeful,” he says.

It’s a lesson he learned from the jail inmates. “I thought it was going to be about growing carrots,” Maddox recalls. “No. It wound up being about growing individuals, just using carrots as the tool to do it.”

SIDEBAR—Why Nature Makes Us Feel Better 

The notion that nature can ease our minds is not new. It’s reflected in Japanese Zen gardens (an idea that goes back at least 10 centuries) and was espoused by writer Henry David Thoreau and by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, who designed Central Park as an antidote to the stresses of urban life. But in the past 30 years or so, researchers have been digging into the science behind it.

A hardwired love of life. In 1984, Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson theorized that biophilia, our affinity for nature, is bred into us. He noted that the human race has been in close contact with nature for almost all of its 200,000-year history. Only in the past three centuries of industrialization have we separated ourselves from nature. Until then, a keen awareness of the natural environment was a trait that helped the fittest survive.

Restoring attention. A theory advanced in 1986 by University of Michigan psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan holds that our most exhausting mental work is “directed attention”—when we have to force ourselves to concentrate. The way we recover is to give our minds over to things that are so fascinating that paying attention is effortless. The natural environment fits the bill because it’s immense in scale, full of fascinating things and usually removed from the places where we tax our minds.

Reducing rumination. Research published in 2015 by Gregory Bratman of Stanford University and others looks at how exposure to nature influences rumination— repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self—which is linked to depression and other mental illnesses. They found that a walk in a natural setting decreased self-reported rumination as well as neural activity in a part of the brain that’s associated with behavioral withdrawal linked to rumination. Walking in an urban setting had no such effect.

SIDEBAR—Tips for Creating Your Own Healing Garden 

Make it personal. Start by thinking about what it is that draws you into your yard, mentally and physically, advises landscape architect Steve Ziegler BS’83: “What’s healing for one person may not be healing for another.” For example, one of Ziegler’s clients likes to walk in the garden at night, so her garden features flowers and paving materials that reflect the moonlight. Another’s healing garden includes an attractive, custom-made clothesline, because she relishes the ritual of hanging out clothes. “That’s her Zen,” Ziegler says.

Mike Maddox MS’00, director of UW–Extension’s Master Gardener program, seconds that: “Don’t get caught up in magazine images of gardening or what’s on HGTV. Go with what’s fun. Work with plants you like and that have meaning to you.”

Make it lush. A rich diversity of plants leads to a diversity of animals—especially birds and insects—and a variety colors, aromas, textures and shapes. “You want to awaken all of your senses,” Ziegler says.

Create transitions. Moving from one area to another should be easy and inviting. That’s especially true for transitioning from your house to your garden. “You want it to be easy, not jarring,” Ziegler says. “If you have to walk out a south-facing door into the blazing sun, for instance, you might want to add a pergola that provides partial shade.”

Offer choices. We get stressed when we feel like we don’t have control over our daily lives. That’s huge for hospital patients—they can’t do much about their situation—and it’s true for the rest of us as well. A healing space can ease that by offering a choice of where to sit—in the sun or shade, in a secluded spot or a more social one—and of things to smell, feel, hear and look at.

Add a focal point. A well-composed photo draws your attention to a certain spot, and so can your sanctuary. It could be a water feature. Running water is therapeutic, and there’s a wonderful selection of easy-to-maintain fountains available, Ziegler says. A bench or gazebo can serve as a focal point as well as a place to sit. So can a tree or sculpture.

Take care of yourself. “If you want to garden, find tools that fit you well and learn about body mechanics and appropriate techniques for lifting, bending, cutting and pruning to make it easier on your body,” says Maddox. And pick tasks that are appropriate to your age and abilities. Pain is not therapeutic.

Charles S. Law BS’79

Charles S. Law BS'79

Charles S. Law BS’79

Chuck Law serves as director of UW–Extension’s Local Government Center (LGC), whose mission is to provide leadership and coordination to UW System educational programs that support local government—serving more than 5,000 locally elected and appointed county, city, village and municipal officials around the state—as well as expand the knowledge base for local government education. Law also serves as a community planning and design specialist, supporting county-based UW–Extension colleagues who work with local officials on a range of community planning challenges, including downtown redevelopment and rural building preservation. Law, who holds a CALS degree in landscape architecture and a Ph.D. in renewable natural resource studies from the University of Arizona, is considered the state’s leading expert on Business Improvement District (BID) creation and administration. He also serves as one of the founders and coordinators of the nationally recognized Wisconsin Barn Preservation Program.

Class Act: Lily Mank

Lily Mank at Allen Centennial Gardens, UW-Madison

Lily Mank at Allen Centennial Gardens, UW-Madison

Some gardens are created to cultivate or showcase particular kinds of plants, others to grow food. But landscape architecture student Lily Mank is most interested in gardens designed to aid healing.

Last summer Mank had an opportunity to learn with a master: Hoichi Kurisu, an international leader in Japanese gardening who counts the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, Ill., among his works. Under his tutelage, Mank completed an internship there allowing her to participate in all aspects of garden maintenance and management— the first time the facility had ever offered one. She also worked at the nearby Rosecrance Griffin Williamson teen substance abuse rehabilitation center, which features a healing garden designed by Kurisu. The garden is an integral part of the facility’s treatment program.

“Seeing the benefits of the therapeutic garden firsthand was incredible,” she says. “It was probably my favorite experience.”

Mank, who holds a certificate in healthcare garden design from the Chicago Botanic Garden, wrapped up her internship with a report on therapeutic gardens. For her senior capstone project she’s taking what she’s learned to Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, which offers treatment for people with eating disorders, OCD and anxiety, depression and addiction.

When first-timers visit a Japanese-style therapeutic garden, one feature stands out: it’s primarily green. “A frequent comment is that there aren’t a lot of flowers, that everything is monochromatic green,” says Mank.

Yet most people feel the tranquility. It’s the special way that plants and other elements—paths, rocks, bodies of water, resting places—are brought together, and the emotions these landscapes evoke, Mank says.

A growing body of research about the benefits of therapeutic landscapes has changed how we look at healthcare, much of it stemming from a study decades ago showing that patients recovered from surgery faster and required less pain medication if they were placed in rooms with a view of nature, Mank says.

She hopes to hone her craft in the realm of therapeutic landscape architecture after she graduates in May.

Costa Rica: New trail in paradise

This past January a group of CALS students found themselves bushwhacking through a dense mountain forest in Costa Rica, crossing paths with monkeys, colorful birds, snakes and strange-looking frogs along the way.

But no worries: They weren’t lost.

As part of a service-learning course offered by the Department of Landscape Architecture, they were scouting out a new hiking trail for the Cloud Forest School, a bilingual, environmentally focused K–11 school located just outside the majestic, fog-shrouded cloud forest reserves of Monteverde and Santa Elena. The reserves are among the most biologically diverse places on Earth, serving as home to more than 2,500 plant species, 400 kinds of birds, more than 200 species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians—and thousands of insects.

“We hiked through the most wild parts of the mountain to collect GPS points of potential new trails,” says Lyn Kim, a landscape architecture senior who spent two weeks in Costa Rica as part of the Cloud Forest Studio course, as it’s called.

CALS students helped plan, map and build a five-kilometer trail through the school’s extensive grounds, which include both pristine and previously harvested cloud forest. The path, which includes resting points of special ecological interest, was designed for Cloud Forest School field trips as well as for the school’s annual fundraiser run. Creating it, however, was just one piece of a much larger effort.

“The long-term goal is to help develop some kind of meaningful forest restoration plan for the property,” says landscape architecture professor Sam Dennis, who co-leads the course along with department chair and professor John Harrington.

“We also want to help support the school’s environmental education efforts so their students can go on to jobs in the local ecotourism industry,” he adds.

Dennis and Harrington made a five-year commit- ment to the school and so far have led two groups of CALS students to conduct work there. In addition to building the trail, students have also started develop- ing classroom curriculum materials, nature guides for the property and interpretive trail signage.

The trips expose CALS students to landscape architecture’s vocational variety. “People tend to think of landscape architecture as putting plants onto landscapes, but that’s very little of what we actually do,” explains Harrington. The course gives students
a taste of environmental restoration work, commu- nity development work, and the creation of outdoor educational spaces with community input.

Kim, for one, was thrilled with her experience last January, and not just because she got to see an active volcano and zipline down the side of a mountain on her day off.

“At school we always design on trace paper and in the computer, but we never get to see our designs built,” she notes. “During our trail-building project, we got to see our work come to life.”

In the Field: Alumni who are making a difference in Landscape Architecture

These alumni represent the depth and breadth
of alumni accomplishments. Selections are
made by Grow staff and are intended to reflect
a sample of alumni stories. It is not a ranking or
a comprehensive list. To read more about CALS
alumni, go to

Know a CALS grad whose work should be highlighted in Grow? E-mail us at:

Next issue: Alumni from CALS short courses

Kids at Work

The slopes in the Yellowstone Wildlife Area are an impenetrable tangle of brambles, prickly ash, dogwood and honeysuckle. They need a thorough de-brushing. But the craggy hillsides are too steep to mow, and they’re a nasty place to wield a chainsaw.

But it’s terrific terrain for goats. That’s why a land management firm was hired last summer to bring 85 Boer goats to this 4,000-acre DNR-managed property in Lafayette County. The goal is to restore the woodlands to oak savanna. This open mix of trees, sedges, wildflowers and grass dominated southern Wisconsin until settlers began controlling the wildfires that kept savannas free of brush.

“Oak savannas are of prime interest to both state and federal wildlife managers. That includes endangered species that require savanna habitat—red-headed woodpecker, vesper sparrow, brown thrasher—as well as game birds such as turkey and grouse,” says CALS landscape architecture professor John Harrington. Harrington leads a team that is evaluating the goats’ impact with support from a state program funding grazing research.

Goats love to browse on woody plants. They are used widely out West to get rid of such noxious weeds as leafy spurge and to clear brush from fire-prone hillsides.

But the idea doesn’t sit well with some conservationists. Free-ranging livestock have done major damage to wild areas through overgrazing, spreading weed seed and causing soil compaction leading to erosion. Harrington hopes the project at Yellowstone, in which the goats are carefully managed by landscape restoration experts, will change some minds.

“Environmentalists have been really gun-shy—or goat-shy,” says Harrington. “This study aims to see if we can use goats as a management tool without the problems grazing has caused in the past.” Harrington hopes to conduct further research this summer.

Graduate students Julia Ela and Katie Baumann, who monitored the animals, report that so far the damage has been negligible. There’s no evidence of soil compaction—and if there’s any problem with plant damage, it’s that there hasn’t been enough of it.

“The goats defoliate the shrubs, and they break and bend a lot of branches, but they don’t necessarily kill them,” Ela says. “It’s clear that repeated grazing cycles will be necessary.”

But just getting rid of the foliage opens up new management options, including reintroducing fire. “By opening up the cover, if we can get more grassy savanna plants growing back in, we can start applying both fire and grazing and achieve greater biodiversity,” Harrington says.

Getting goats to eat more has a benefit beyond brush clearance. The firms that provide the goats supplement their management fees by selling mature animals for slaughter, taking advantage of a Midwest market for goat meat that has been rising along with the presence of ethnic groups that prefer it. The plumper the animals are when they come out of the woods, the more they’ll fetch at market—and the more affordable this management practice can be.

Darren Marsh

Dane County Parks Director Darren Marsh oversees more than 12,000 acres of parks and natural resource areas with some 1.25 million visitors each year. What you might not know: Dane County Parks was one of the first park programs in the nation to develop a dog exercise program (“Dog Parks,” 1994) and has a nationally recognized disc golf course at Token Creek Park. “I have a great job,” Marsh acknowledges. “I help people with special events ranging from large bike races, marathons, and music events to family reunions and youth activities. I really enjoy opportunities to restore and manage natural resource areas that include wetlands, prairies, and forests.”

Drop in the Bucket

At CALS’ O.J. Noer turfgrass research facility, Doug Soldat is saving up for a not-so-rainy day.

With the help of graduate student Brad DeBels BS’07, Soldat, a professor of soil science, built two huge tanks to collect stormwater from the facility’s 7,000-square-foot roof and divert it into the soil—a concept similar to the rain barrels that many homeowners use, but on a massive scale. While consumer-grade rain barrels typically hold 50 gallons and can overflow quickly in heavy storms, Soldat’s tanks each capture 4,000 gallons of water, which trickles back into the soil through underground lines.

“In a three-month period we collected 19,000 gallons off the roof at the Noer center and sent it all to the turf—3,150 square feet of lawn,” Soldat says. “We were able to use and infiltrate all of the rain that that fell on the center’s rooftop.”

Systems like this could make a dent in the amount of water pumped from wells and surface waters. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about a third of the water piped to a typical household is used outdoors, and half of that goes to water lawns and gardens.

But Soldat sees it as more than a way to water the lawn without turning on the tap. It’s also a tool for infiltrating more stormwater, preventing runoff that floods and contaminates surface waters, and recharging rapidly depleting groundwater. “In one of our (plots), we put on three-and-a-half inches of water in four hours without any ponding because all of the water leached through the soil,” says DeBels. “If you did that with overhead irrigation, you would be putting it on faster than soil could infiltrate. Your lawn would be a muddy mess.

Playground Design is More than an Exercise

ONE OF THE FAILINGS OF UNIVERSITY LEARNING is that the work of students sometimes can get left on the shelf. Assignments, though faithfully completed, too often don’t make it out of the theoretical.

So imagine the thrill for Curt Staats, a senior majoring in landscape architecture, to stand in a remote Honduran village and see one of his school projects come alive in grass, sand and stone.

Under the direction of professor Sam Dennis, Staats designed a children’s playground for the townspeople of Orica, a small village in central Honduras where his church has done service work. He and Dennis have since led two service-learning trips to the Central American country, where teams of students and community volunteers are working to build Staats’ vision.

“This is really the first big project I’ve worked on,” says Staats. “It’s pretty exciting to see it come together.”

The playground grew from a church trip to Honduras, during which Orica’s mayor described
his town’s need for a place for children to play. Staats, a former woodworker who returned to school to study landscape design, volunteered to lay out a playground on a patch of city land.

To design the park, Staats drew on Dennis’ research, which focuses on using natural elements to stimulate community and creative play. In Honduras, students have worked side-by-side with local laborers to make the design a reality, installing equipment, planting gardens and hauling sand from a nearby river to fill sandboxes.

“We’re carrying blocks or digging a trench together, and that becomes a way for us to have something in common,” says Dennis. “It’s a true partnership that continues to deepen over time.”

Legacy of the Dam

FOR MOST OF THE PAST 150 YEARS, Wisconsin’s proud Badgers might as well have been beavers, so busy were they damming the state’s rivers and streams. To produce electricity, provide water for livestock and control floods, Wisconsin built some 3,800 dams by official estimates-or as many as 10,000 by unofficial counts-more than any other state.

As those structures grow old, obsolete and hazardous, however, many dam owners are embracing a new, free-flowing era, dismantling the dams and returning waterways to their natural course. But as long-submerged lands spring back to life, the consequences of dams can linger long after the structure is gone.

That’s what soil scientists Nick Balster and Ana Wells and restoration expert John Harrington MS’83 are finding at the UW’s Franbrook Farm, where they are trying to restore a native prairie at the site of a 43-year-old dam removed in 2003. But the scientists have found that soils flooded for decades hold stubborn traces of their past. For one, they’ve uncovered a striking lack of variety in the knee-deep sediments that piled up during the dam’s lifetime and buried the more diverse soils underneath. This uniformity could explain why former reservoirs usually cultivate monotonous blankets of invasive weeds after they are drained, confounding attempts to establish native plantings.

At the same time, the researchers have discovered swirling patterns of nutrients, bulk density and other soil properties that were laid down when the dam was breached and water surged through the break. How these patterns might influence the distribution and growth of native species-including their ability to stand up to weedy invaders-is now a major thrust of the trio’s work.

Surprisingly, the researchers say no one else has really done this before. “We’re asking the question, ‘How much do soils matter in the restoration of these basins?'” says Balster. “As people who love to study soil we’re going to say, ‘A lot! Soils likely drive the whole thing.’ But as scientists, we don’t know yet.”

In the meantime, they’ve been fascinated to watch the development of land that had been underwater and devoid of terrestrial life for decades. Thousands of earthworms have wiggled down into the fresh dirt, for example, while waves of different invasive plants have washed over the ground each year. And over time, the researchers expect these plant and animal pioneers will feed and mix the nascent soils, transforming the site yet again.

“That’s what has been fun for me,” says Balster. “You rarely get the opportunity as an ecologist to study and watch primary succession of a plant community into new soils. But we have it here.”

Five Things Everyone Should Know About…GIS Maps

1.     GIS is about more than maps—it’s about the meaning behind the maps. Geographic information systems, known collectively as GIS, are probably best known because of online mapping sites such as Google Earth and MapQuest, but they also are essential analytic tools for scientists, public agencies and businesses. These data systems integrate maps with other information, such as traffic patterns, census data or land features, allowing a user to get a picture of how given data relate to location. You might use GIS to find a route to the nearest post office or see where the fish are biting; scientists use it to explore and model patterns in everything from land use to animal migration.

2.     It’s not the same as GPS. Global positioning systems tell you where you are; GIS captures and stores information about the places around you. Here’s a tragic example of why this difference matters: A few years ago, during a brutally hot running of the Chicago marathon, a suburban ambulance came into the city and picked up a victim of heat exhaustion. Although the ambulance had on-board GPS, it did not have a GIS database that could identify the location of the closest hospitals, and the patient died before the ambulance could reach a hospital.

3.     GIS can do more than get you from point A to point B. Some of the most exciting applications of GIS data don’t have anything to do with navigation. Looking at patterns of land use on a map, for example, can help city planners assess the environmental and economic effects of their policies and make better decisions. At CALS, some researchers are using GIS to map urban and wooded areas to characterize wildfire risks.Others are identifying optimal locations for biofuel plants, based on regional feedstock supplies, transportation infrastructure and other factors.

4.     GIS can take you global—or local. While GIS is useful for big-picture assessments, it’s also quite practical for refining small-scale decisions. A GIS can store information about soil conditions across a farmer’s fields, allowing him or her to apply just the right amount of fertilizer in each place. At the same time, GIS can also aggregate data across broad areas to help us understand where fertilizer use contributes to problems such as the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

5.     Information can be a double-edged sword. As GIS applications emerge, some people worry that easy access to data about their property might threaten their privacy or security. It’s important to remember that most GIS applications use publicly available data and adhere to strict privacy guidelines. But as with any new information technology, these questions are important to discuss. The more the public participates in the use of GIS applications, the better we can balance information access with protection of privacy and the better we can ensure that GIS is a democratizing influence on public decision-making.

Stephen Ventura is a professor of soil science and director of UW-Madison’s Land Information and Computer Graphics Facility, which conducts GIS-aided research and helps local governments develop GIS applications to aid land use planning

Building Green, for Less Green

IN CONSTRUCTION, affordable and green are often contradictory terms. What makes for an environmentally conscious building––such as the use of natural building materials or systems to generate alternative forms of energy––often also makes for an expensive one, leaving sustainable design a choice only a few can afford.

A team of UW-Madison faculty, students and community organizations, however, is out to construct a new reality: green housing that doesn’t require as much up-front expense. Sue Thering, a CALS assistant professor of landscape architecture and a community development specialist for UW-Extension, is coordinating a partnership with several of Wisconsin’s Native American communities to create affordable, energy efficient housing on tribal lands throughout the state. Supported by a three-year grant from the Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Foundation, the project included a for-credit outreach program this summer, which trained 20 participants in green community design techniques and culminated in the construction of two model homes in the St. Croix Ojibwa community near Hertel, Wis. Plans are to construct affordable housing in other tribal communities during the next three years.

“There are green technologies that already go into very high-end housing,” says Thering. “We have assembled a team of national experts who have dedicated themselves to this project, and through good design, research and testing, they have made these technologies work on a more modest scale.”

Thering notes that builders in the Southwest are using a mixture of straw and clay to construct “green” walls in expensive homes. Participants in the summer program, including UW-Madison students and tribal housing officials, spent a week in Santa Fe, N.M., learning how to work with the straw-clay compound, which can be adapted for Midwestern temperatures to create highly energy efficient structures.

By mastering such techniques, Thering says participants can open the door to jobs and business opportunities. “Builders tell us that there is pent-up demand for these technologies, but a shortage of people who are trained to work with them,” she says. “We’re responding to the market.”