Landscape Performance Benefits
- Sequesters 43 tons of carbon annually in the 453 trees on the property, approximately the same amount of CO2 released by burning 4,372 gallons of gasoline.
- Provides suitable habitat for two trout species through a series of created ponds and wetlands. Water quality testing showed temperature, pH, and alkalinity to be within suitable ranges.
- Stores all water rights volumes, 3.25 acre-ft, on-site, which can be released to augment the nearby Roaring Fork River when needed. This is equivalent to 1.5 Olympic-size swimming pools.
- Reuses nearly 8,000 cubic yards, or 95%, of material excavated from ponds to re-contour the site, obviating the need to import fill and saving on disposal, purchasing, and transportation costs.
- Prevented 42 cubic yards of asphalt from entering the local landfill by using a recycled asphalt paving mix to create the access driveways.
- Prevented over 430 cubic feet of wood from entering the local landfill by purchasing reclaimed wood instead of new lumber to reconstruct the facades on the historic buildings. This was estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.
- Rehabilitated five historic structures along Highway 82 in Pitkin County, including one eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Only 6 historic sites are on the National Register along this highway, the area’s major thoroughfare.
At a Glance
Design Workshop, Inc.
Former Land Use
Pitkin County, Colorado
Riverside Ranch was one of the first homesteads built in Colorado’s Roaring Fork River Valley in the 1880s. The project site was a stop for the railroad and stage coaches travelling to nearby Aspen and a successful agricultural and ranching operation for decades. In the mid-twentieth century, the site transitioned into use as an asphalt mixing plant for the Colorado Department of Transportation. When the landscape architect began work, the site was essentially a brownfield in need of rehabilitation as it was host to multiple rundown historic buildings and remnants of the asphalt plant. The design team reconstructed the landscape to create a private residential property, incorporating native vegetation with year-round visual interest and reclaimed materials to tie the site to its heritage. A riparian corridor stores water on-site, releases it on demand for downstream users per state requirements, improves water quality, and provides habitat for multiple trout species. The historic structures were restored and reconfigured to create a visual amenity, forming a quadrangle in a manner reminiscent of the site’s past.
- This six-acre property, situated in the riparian corridor between a busy highway and an alpine river, features 1.4 acres of created wetlands and a quadrangle bordered by restored historic buildings that, though not inhabited, function as a cultural and visual enhancement.
- Designers rehabilitated and restored five historic ranch buildings and placed them around a central lawn. Using reclaimed materials and historically sensitive techniques, the plan removed hazards due to structural instability and helped to preserve the site’s cultural heritage.
- The three created ponds and a 1/3-mile stream alignment allow homeowners to catch and release fish several times per month when in residence.
- The system of wetlands created on the site, complete with nearly 1/3 acre of riparian plantings, provide trout and water fowl habitat and augment water volumes in the Roaring Fork River. Designers selected wetland plantings for their water inundation suitability, aesthetics, habitat enhancement and availability. Deep wetland plants include Softstem Bullrush (Scirpus validus) and Beaked Sedge (Carex rostrata), stream-edge vegetation includes Scouring Rush (Equisotum hyemale) and Creeping Spikerush (Eleocharis palustris), and wet meadow plantings include Nebraska Sedge (Carex nebrascensis), Mertens Rush (Juncus mertensianus) and Halls Rush (Juncus Hallii).
- Habitat structures created of geomembrane, boulders, logs, rebar stakes, cobble mix, sand and gravel mix include: riffles, weirs, glides, bend pools, deflectors, and overhang banks.
- Nearly 6 acres of invasive weed species, which were outcompeting native flora and covering the entire site, were removed and replaced with native plantings including tree species such as Quaking Aspen, Colorado Spruce and Cottonwoods.
- Nearly 2.5 acres of added native vegetation and subtle berming provide a visual buffer to unpleasant noise and views associated with the nearby five-lane Highway 82, which carries an average of 16,000 vehicle trips each day. This approach preserves views of the property’s open space from the highway, which maintains the agricultural and pastoral feel that the open space parcels were required to retain.
- Recycled asphalt was incorporated into the road base for the new driveway, saving virgin material and diverting the old asphalt from a landfill.
- To reduce light pollution and glare, lighting is minimal and reserved only for locations where it is required for safety.
Preserving historical character while addressing the more recent degradation of the property formed the principal design challenge. The foremost concern was the integration of randomly placed structures, including a dilapidated but distinguished ranch home and various sheds dating from the late 1800s. The design also needed to create an intimate and relaxing residential space with recreational opportunities for the client despite the property’s frontage on a heavily-travelled highway. Furthermore, the site was legally required to provide a solution for on-site storage of river water that could be released when needed to augment the nearby Roaring Fork River.
The master plan for the site addressed these conflicting needs. The ramshackle structures were relocated to a more historically accurate and visually appealing setting on the property, reminiscent of colloquial farm layouts typical of early settlers in the American West. Buildings were restored with careful attention to construction techniques and materials used when the structures were initially built. As a result, the buildings formed a valuable landscape amenity for the client and preserved a slice of the region’s history. Groupings of native trees and shrubs were added to create a visual separation from the highway, making the site feel like a private mountain retreat. The creation of a chain of ponds surrounded by a vibrant riparian area provides habitat for fish and native wetland species while also serving recreational and water storage needs.
- By limiting turf grass to just 0.57 acres or 11% of the total site area, the homeowners save an estimated $9,485 in annual maintenance costs compared to if the entire site were conventional lawn. This figure includes labor, fuel, and fertilizer costs.
- Designers originally conceived the historic buildings on site to be fully functional guest homes, but due to the extreme cost of restoring the structures to meet regulations for habitation, the large farmhouse was relegated to a visual rather than a habitable amenity.
- Working with the Colorado Department of Transportation proved critical to developing a buffer between the heavily travelled roadway and the property. Through collaboration, the design team was able to obtain permission to change the road embankment from a 2:1 grade to a more gentle slope that matched the grade on the rest of the site, thus creating an extra ten feet of space that provided a platform for a vegetation buffer. Re-contouring the road embankment to a more shallow grade, created a naturalized road edge and gained between 10 and 35 feet of additional space.
Master Plan & Landscape Plan: Design Workshop, Inc.
Aquatic/Pond Consultants: Aqua Sierra, Inc.
Building Contractor: B & H Construction
Landscape Contractor: Landscape Workshop
Water Rights Consultants: Resource Engineering
Restoration Architects: H3 Architects
Civil Engineer: High Country Engineering
Irrigation Consultant: HydroSystems-KDI, Inc
Role of the Landscape Architect
The landscape architect led the design team and coordinated the contractors and consultants who assisted in the implementation of the site plan. Specifically, the landscape architect directed the placement of structures and buffers, selected the plant palette and assisted with the design of the riparian corridor.
Case Study Prepared By
Research Fellow: Bo Yang, PhD, Assistant Professor, Utah State University
Research Assistant: Pamela Blackmore, BLA, Utah State University
Research Assistant: Chris Binder, MLA Candidate, Utah State University
Firm Liaisons: Allyson Mendenhall, Darla Callaway, and Richard Shaw, Design Workshop
Yang, Bo, Chris Binder, and Pamela Blackmore. “Riverside Ranch.” Landscape Performance Series. Landscape Architecture Foundation, 2013. https://doi.org/10.31353/cs0670