Walden Woods is where naturalist, abolitionist, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau resided when he wrote the influential American classic Walden; or, Life in the Woods. The woods are also the once-home of Freeman Brister, a freed African-American slave. Although an important historical site, in the 1990s the area had been significantly altered by sand mining, invasive plants, and off-road vehicles—and was threatened with development. Sasaki provided planning services for the Walden Woods that addresses the physical misuses and shares the transcendental nature and significance of the site with the public. At Brister's Hill, an 18.6 acre parcel of land in the center of the woods, Sasaki provided graphic and landscape design services to create an interpretive trail. The location and condition of the site provided a unique opportunity to interpret Thoreau's observations and writings through a series of elements that quote Thoreau and encourage visitors to explore the environmental characteristics of the site.
"Simplify, simplify," is a famous quote from Thoreau, and in this spirit the interpretive trail is organized around a simple loop path with granite and bronze elements featuring other quotations. The careful selection of stone and bronze materials responded to the needs for durability, legibility, sustainability, and beauty. Landscape features illustrative of Thoreau's observations and writing are called out with markers while quotes are carved into stones set into the earth. The quotes are organized around five important contributions of Thoreau, each with a stopping point along the path. Entry Meadow references Thoreau as a conservationist, Brister's Orchard references Thoreau as a social reformer and commentator, Sand Plain references Thoreau as a teacher and observer, Forest Succession references Thoreau as a scientist, and Reflection Circle references Thoreau's philosophy, including its spiritual dimensions and his influence on others.
Sasaki's landscape design along with a program of landscape restoration and invasive plant removal restores and encourages the natural succession of existing plants ranging from lichens and mosses, to White Birch and Pitch Pine, to Oak and Hickory forest. Sasaki also provided planning services for the Walden Pond State Reservation and other interconnected lands at a former rock quarry.
Through an intense effort to achieve balance between providing information while maintaining a sense of discovery with non-intrusiveness into the natural setting, the project achieved a place where visitors of all ages can connect to history and nature. The project exemplifies a successful interdisciplinary effort—integrating graphic design and landscape design with historians, Thoreau scholars, and environmental specialists. Recording artist Don Henley was instrumental in the protection and enhancements to Walden Woods, acquiring the property on behalf of the nonprofit Walden Woods Project to protect this land and to continue to inspire the ethics of environmental stewardship and social responsibility.
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