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This Northwest Park Promotes STEAM Learning For All

The aptly named Discovery Park considers the surrounding natural environment and wildlife while providing learning opportunities in science, technology, engineering, art, and math.

By Rachel Gallaher

A gravel path among trees. A woman in shorts is walking along the trail which is lined with boulders, rocks, and grass.

Designed by Geyer Coburn Hutchins Planning & Landscape Architecture, Discovery Park is a 20-acre recreational outdoor space that includes a walking loop, picnic areas, and wildlife conservation elements.

When Geyer Coburn Hutchins Planning & Landscape Architecture (GCH) started working on the plans for what would be become Discovery Park—a 19-acre community-focused recreational space located in phase one of the Tehaleh community in Bonney Lake, Washington—the site functioned as a regional storm water management system for the development and was essentially a large, barren lot.

“It had little topographical interest,” says Noelle Higgins, a landscape architect at GCH and the project manager. “The site had been completely regraded with imported gravels and [there was] no existing topsoil or vegetation to speak of when we began to develop the design.” But a blank site also served as a blank slate, and GCH, in partnership with real estate development firm Newland, had ambitious plans for the future park.

“The landscape design was challenging as it needed to serve as a beautiful, relaxing, and natural backdrop for resident activities, but also not impede the all-important function of the infiltration rates within the stormwater cells,” explains Marita Benedict at Brookfield Properties, the parent company Newland. “Tehaleh is committed to preserving 1,800 acres for open space as well as conserving wetlands and respecting the natural topography, hydrology, and wildlife of the land. This community lives in the forest, so it is of the utmost importance to be a part of the ecosystem.”

A hillside covered in brown, dry grass. A circular stormwater treatment cell is on the ground and dark pink wildflowers are growing in the foreground.

The site functions as a storm facility designed to accommodate a 100-year storm for over 2,000 house lots surrounding it. It was engineered and constructed to include three dry filtration cells (as seen above) and one wet cell, the pond.

The stormwater treatment features had to remain, so GCH created a simple loop trail around them, to, as Higgins explains, “connect all the trails and access points to the park. We used a native planting that began to blend our site back into the forested areas that surrounded the site. There was an overarching goal to create a park that is focused on S.T.E.A.M principles (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) but that felt approachable and comfortable for all visitors and complemented the existing surroundings.”

To achieve this, the park comprises a range of different sections that encourage visitors (including the students at the adjacent middle school) to learn from and engage with the park. In addition to the walking loop, there is a community garden, a pond that holds fish and attracts waterfowl, a series of bird and bat houses (bats are needed to help maintain the park, with some bats capable of eating over 1,000 mosquitoes and other insects nightly), art installations, an amphitheater, a multipurpose gathering space with picnic tables, and a bocce ball court.

An outdoor scene with a pong in the foreground, a large grassy field behind it, a stepped amphitheater and dark green trees in the background.

The pond at Discovery Park, with the amphitheater seen in the background.

The 20-acre park was planted with a blend of evergreen, deciduous, and shade trees that provide protection from the sun and wind and define specifically programmed spaces around the site. Three quarters of the planted areas are mounded dunes, planted with native, deer-resistant and drought-resistant plants. The plantings help bring together the various sections of the park into a cohesive, easy-to-navigate space.

“The pollinator trail has a compacted, gravel surface,” Higgins says. “This is a traditional surface for formal garden paths in Europe, it sets a tone for a slower pace of walking and has a crunchy texture that the user can feel and a hear as they move through the site. The plant palate is designed as part of the educational experience, expressing the ecological function of the pollinator trail. Plant species were chosen for the wildlife benefits they provide, including shelter, food, water and nesting places, and materials for birds, insects, bees, and other wildlife.”

A group of wooden birdhouses on poles. Green trees and a grassy hill in the background.

"A series of snags, bird houses, and bat houses are organized as an orderly series of vertical elements that creates a wild but orderly landscape," says Noelle Higgins, a landscape architect at GCH.

In addition to spectacular views of Mt. Rainier (the view corridor looking toward the mountain served as an axis for the design plan), the park design engages local creatives in meaningful ways. The Poetry Rock is a boulder that was excavated from the site. The team asked Ruth Yarrow, a Haiku Master originally from the Northwest, to write a poem about the rain—the resulting verses were sandblasted onto the boulder, which was placed near the pond.

“The boulder also has a word game with letters engraved into a grid, hidden in the grid are words describing the water system,” Higgins says. “The planting areas surrounding the rock are also pollinator plants and plants for bird habitat, and eventually will grow up and frame some views of this rock, creating more layers of opportunity for learning and conversation.”

In a sense, it’s a small encapsulation of the overall agenda of the park: to engage visitors, give them moments to connect with nature, and hope they take a lesson or two with them when they leave.

A large wooden picnic table with benches. A community garden is in the background.

The picnic table, which can seat up to 40 people, is adjacent to the community garden.


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