Ayres Wins ASLA Wisconsin Award for Planning Future of Dam and Park

  • By Ayres
  • April 17, 2023

Photo group showing examples Echo Park designs.The Wisconsin Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects has awarded Ayres an Honor Award in the category of unbuilt designs for its work on the Echo Lake Park Master Planning project in Burlington.

After a historic flood damaged downtown Burlington, a dam failure analysis conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources determined the dam at Echo Lake needed to be either removed or replaced. The City hired Ayres to lead a community engagement and master planning process to establish a vision for the park. The team focused on two design alternatives – modify the dam and restore the lake, or remove the dam and free the river. Led by the design team and a steering committee comprising local community members, the goal was to develop two plans for local residents to vote on during a fall referendum.

Our landscape architecture team worked with passionate local advocates on all sides of the debate. Early public workshops identified a vision and mission that could unite the community around a core goal: β€œTo develop an outdoor space that supports local events, development, and entrepreneurs through active programming and passive activities while promoting a resilient community through a connection to nature.”

Community engagement generated important conversations between residents. While differing opinions remain on what is right for Burlington, the process helped residents to understand all perspectives and to support whichever option was selected.

Ayres' Chris Silewski and Paige Bernhardt standing with award.Project design principles included:

  • Community: Create opportunities to strengthen the social fabric of the Burlington community.
  • Recreation: Provide flexible and adaptable spaces for passive multi-generational activities.
  • Environmental: Develop a site-specific design that highlights native ecology.
  • Connections: Improve and expand connections to surrounding neighborhoods and businesses.
  • Aesthetics: Exemplify the social, historical, and environmental character of Burlington.
  • Tourism: Attract visitors throughout eastern Wisconsin via creative events and programming.

While the master plan for the park and lake developed a 30-year vision for the park, the design team and steering committee crafted a phased park plan that recommended critical improvements as part of the referendum vote while leaving additional improvements relating to parking, playground, pavilion, community plaza, and restroom facilities to be decided in the future. Voters chose the $9.1 million dam preservation and lake restoration option over the $8.7 million dam removal and river restoration option. The City since approved that option, and construction is expected to begin in 2024.

Special factors addressed in the conceptual design phase included:

  • Working with private event venues within the public park to streamline efficiencies in parking and reduce conflicts between private and public events.
  • Improving long-term water quality with initial lake dredging to remove years of river sediment, along with native wetland habitat restoration and modified water channel design to maintain quality.
  • Looking closely at property ownership and improving existing circulation relating to an active railroad separating the park from downtown, as well as Milwaukee Avenue separating Echo Park from surrounding greenspace and neighborhoods.