Though for many years it has been a special place for Rochester residents, Washington Grove has recently seen a marked increase in public usage. The Grove attracts a range of visitors, who come with various expectations and interests. Some seek recreation by walking quietly among the great trees, perhaps looking out for the animals and birds that inhabit the Grove. Many people walk with their dogs, mostly observing the leash law. Other users prefer more active exercise, and there are often runners in the Grove, sometimes taking part in organized events. Some people seek out the disused water tanks to view or add to the graffiti painted on them. For some the Grove matters most as a rare remnant of a lost landscape, a place of considerable scientific as well as aesthetic interest for the glaciated terrain and the surviving plant communities; as such, it is an important educational resource. Obviously balancing all these uses is a challenge, especially as in some cases they tend to damage the environment through erosion and the trampling of sensitive areas. Some would like to keep the Grove as much as possible as a miniature wilderness, but as part of a public park it cannot be sealed off. It is therefore important to find reasonable accommodation for different categories of users, though the preservation of the Grove must always be a priority.
As visitors experience it at present, the Grove is not entirely a “natural” area because it has undergone various major changes, involving – in ecological terms — a serious impoverishment. Massive chestnut trees once dominated the Grove; they were killed by disease in the 1920s and sugar maples planted in their place. The oak trees so characteristic of the Grove are failing to regenerate. Invasive species have threatened to displace the native vegetation. Once narrow paths have become widened and/or eroded by excessive human traffic. The herb layer has largely been eroded or trampled away, and deer predation has been an issue. These challenges are being confronted by a volunteer organization, the Friends of Washington Grove, which works closely with the City to restore the Grove and secure its future use and enjoyment by all the groups mentioned above. The Friends have removed invasive species, planted “natives,” and reinforced paths by spreading woodchips. It is obvious, however, that more needs to be done.
As a result, the City of Rochester hired an environmental design firm to prepare a conceptual study of Washington Grove, with the following agenda:
- To consult with interested groups and stake-holders in order to understand public concerns and desires, and to bring public attention to the project;
- To evaluate and classify the trails and recommend which should be upgraded, otherwise modified, or closed;
- To identify major trails or a single loop that might be upgraded for heavier traffic including use for races;
- To make recommendations related to the enhancement and maintenance of the Grove as a whole and the various micro-habitats within it; and
- To develop a conceptual design of the major entrances into the Grove (Nunda Blvd, School #1, and Reservoir Road) so secure effective and attractive interface with the disparate locations with which they interface.
The study is now available to the public at: http://share.edrcompanies.com/weblinks/rw/fe70c36866add1572a8e2b96bfede7bf–/Washington%20Grove.
The consultants completed a thorough assessment of existing conditions. They found that the number of trails, many often close to each other, diminishes the sense of wildness, and that some trails go straight up and down slopes and so contribute to vegetation and soil loss. They documented trail widening with consequent loss of undergrowth and dramatic soil erosion. They consequently recommend a hierarchy of trails, some three feet wide, some four feet, and a possible five-foot wide .35 mile trail compliant with ADA standards. (The consultants found that members of the public and multiple user groups showed clear support for an accessible trail within the Grove.). They suggest ways to address trail widening. In short they provide a series of recommendations for:
- the selection and reinforcement of effective existing trails;
- removal of detrimental trails;
- concept-level design for trail entrances for the Nunda Blvd, School #1 and reservoir trailheads; and
- realistic maintenance strategies to ensure safety and sustainability for the park trail system.
It is important to note that his is primarily a conceptual consultancy. In many cases the consultants provide options for substantive discussion, rather than a single recommendation. They also provide regional or national criteria on which they base their recommendations, which can guide discussion on their recommendations. None of the major recommendations (e.g.: An ADA compliant path, entry redesign) can go forward without additional conversation and subsequent formal design. The Friends of Washington Grove look forward to working with the City, which commissioned to report, to facilitate lively and constructive discussions about how to go forward in order to best manage conflicting uses of a beloved place.
Andrew Seager, President
The Friends of Washington Grove