Reviving the designs of a person who is no longer around to guide you can be challenging, but as we found out, it can also be quite rewarding.
For 8 months throughout 2016 we revitalized Russel Wright's woodland path, the Killalemy Trail, at the National Historic Site of Manitoga. It's been an exploratory journey in understanding the personal intent of a designer who is sadly, no longer with us. Through a series of 12 projects on Wright's Killalemy Trail, our purpose has been to revive the historic stonework so that it is not only sustainable, but revived in the spirit of Wright's aesthetic.
Implementing this vision has certainly been a process of discovery on our end. Having the intent of another guiding you when they are no longer there to express it themselves makes you slow down, think twice, and step back to reflect more often. This hasn't been a bad thing; rather, it's helped to evolve our own way of looking at the work we've done so many times before.
Wright designed his paths so that the subtleties of the landscape would be magnified, as he said, in a "revelatory journey." This reveal is integral to Wrights desire to magnify nature as you walk through it. For example, turns and natural features often obscure the path ahead on purpose, creating a curtain, revealing the unexpected and causing a sudden intimacy with the natural feature encountered. A series of boulders would have a reduced dramatic effect if they were visible at a great distance; but by revealing them at the last second, around a turn obscured by the curtain of trees, their effect is magnified. In a way, it feels as though you discovered them.
Through this we've also come to appreciate more than ever the concept of intimacy and integration with the landscape. Where possible steps are sunk deep into the earth so that the soil and surrounding vegetation blend into the top of the step, submerging the visitor deeper into the surrounding ecology. In the same vein they also avoid, whenever possible, the installation of any stones along the sides of steps (gargoyles). While this is against the common trail design practice of today, it does so with the intent of avoiding visual barriers between the path and it's the user from their natural surroundings.
Where steps do tie into rocks, they do so with the natural boulders and bedrock they are meant to showcase. To enhance this experience stairways often pinch down through narrow gateways, allowing users to almost brush up against the rock as they pass by. In Wrights philosophy, this type of intimacy with natural features collectively magnifies the drama of the overall landscape.
On November 5th we officially wrapped up our improvements for this phase of work on Wright's paths with a celebratory work day including both Jolly Rover and Manitoga volunteers went off extraordinarily well as the finishing touches to the trail were applied. Over 1,200 hours of service were provided by 25 crew members to accomplish this restoration. Our hope is that we have successfully honored the design intent of another, allowing it to be embraced by the next generation that follows.