Director, Blueprint Agency
Biofiltration, Drainage, Flowers, Landscaping, Plants, Stormwater, Swale, Trees
Autumn Calder, Blueprint Director
What was your experience with community outreach during the planning process?
We prioritized working with citizen groups to determine the historical and cultural elements of the park. One of Blueprint’s biggest contributions to Cascades Park is the Smokey Hollow Commemoration. Decades ago, Smokey Hollow was an African American community of about 600 people. Smokey Hollow at its peak thrived with barber shops, juke joints, and a number of community serving establishments. During the 50s and 60s the Capitol Complex was extended down to Smokey Hollow. There was a considerable amount of black-owned property, and we are able to see that these property owners were not paid as much as the white owners. This resulted in distrust and loss of communication. Many residents of Smokey Hollow were uprooted from their homes with sometimes no notice. When the time came to develop Cascades Park, there was a recognition that a commemoration needed to happen. This process helped start healing through civic engagement.
Can you tell us more about the site and its ecological conditions before it was developed?
Cascades Park has been an idea for the community since the 1970s, stymied for decades because of brownfield designation. The site was primarily open space with pecan trees and a ditch running through the center of it. At the center of the park, it continued to a brownfield that was overgrown and experiencing a lot of erosion. When it would rain, it would flash flood. The nearby Franklin Boulevard ditch would also flood with stormwater and was dangerous.
Now, Cascades Park manages stormwater through a conveyance system into an upper pond and lower pond with a recreated wetland connecting them. One portion of the stormwater goes through the pond/wetland system, and the other goes through culvert system to carry about 50% of the water underground. There is so much interesting vegetation and wildlife living throughout the park and within its freshwater bodies.
You’ve probably thought yourself or heard from community members about what benefits this project might bring. Maybe to water challenges, nature and wildlife, the community. What is the top benefit you think this project will provide?
The top benefit is that it creates safe space for people to smile at each other. Cascades Park also brings community awareness to stormwater infrastructure. I’ve done countless tours and people are always interested in learning and surprised about that factor. Also, I think that the park is a part of a larger trail system adds to the value. It’s a destination where you can go to other places via trail and bike. As a result, it has compounded the economic value. We’ve seen private investment occur adjacent to the park because of the water quality and recreational infrastructure.
Can you think of something that you weren’t expecting but made you really feel good about the project?
Three weeks after the grand opening, Cascades Park held its very first concert. To see the people of our community enjoying the park space in a way where they felt safe to smile at strangers was incredible. It is amazing that we can take something like a stormwater facility and create such a positive place for people while feeling safe to share our differences.
What are some challenges you may have encountered with this project or other similar projects? Perhaps issues that caused delays or unexpected increases in costs, or challenges with community outreach. What are some of the lessons learned?
One thing we learned from the Smokey Hollow process is that in order to have a meaningful citizen group you need the right technical experts to guide the citizens. You can’t get the best results unless you have the technical experts in the room. The engineers and architects need to be there to address design issues, historians to document, and staff to keep it moving.
Big ideas like Cascades Park take a long time to implement and need to have leadership at the highest level (City/County) committed to project all the way through. There is no perfect project, and we will encounter challenges and changes that need to be backed by committed leadership to the project. Our local leadership never waivered their support for Cascades Park.
One of the biggest gaps in information regarding these types of projects is cost. I hear it from the state FDEP to local governments. Do you have project cost details (funding sources, ongoing maintenance) that you would be willing to share with us?
Like any good project, we had quite a few change orders, as we gained momentum, people had different ideas and we needed to implement them. The budget grew!
We had grants and partnerships to help fund the project. Senator Lorraine Ausley was a champion for the grant via legislative appropriation. We secured funding such as the DEP grant for a stormwater element that removed nutrients from the water, as well as donations for a trail system running through the park. We also had a community program where people could buy brick or a tree, which bought a lot of social capital from the community. The City of Tallahassee maintains the park and in preparation of the park opening, they’ve had to increased their staffing capacity.
Now, let’s talk about stormwater management in your community. Visualize typical stormwater infrastructure in your City/County. What does it look like? What benefits does it provide? Which project is your favorite? With that in mind, can you describe the typical types of stormwater infrastructure the City/County has historically used?
Blueprint constructs projects that have a stormwater retrofit objective. I know there are over 730 stormwater management facilities in Leon County that are maintained and managed by public entities. Utilizing different GSI strategies, the City completed the Weems Rd pond with alum injection treatment – it’s an impressive facility. The County has done a massive amount of investments in stormwater treatment primarily aimed at protecting natural resources.
What kind of feedback have you received from your community regarding green stormwater infrastructure?
People are always interested in pushing the needle on new technology and treatments. In Tallahassee and Leon County, we have a population that is interested in protecting the environment in the community. So, there’s different stakeholder groups that are always interested in learning stormwater, and the community supports GSI.
Are there any other upcoming GSI projects that you would like to share with us?
Capital Cascades Segment 4, located at the bottom of the central drainage ditch before it gets to Munson Slough, will provide more treatment and address localized nuisance flooding while also creating a recreational trail. It will be adjacent to the Black Swamp and will include nature and wildlife bringing outdoor recreation to that part of town. We are currently exploring GSI for this project in its early stages.
We also have a smaller project, although the statement for sustainability is important. We are currently constructing a 450 sq. ft. public bathroom at Cascades Trail/FAMU Way. It includes a water bottle filling station and a green vegetated roof with cistern system that pumps rainwater out to water the roof.