This spring, students Kate O’Brien and David Weber are working on a design project for CIRENAS, an environmental NGO in Costa Rica. To kick off the project, they’re spending two weeks on location, before returning to Conway to complete the project remotely.

Kate O'Brien headshot

From the students on April 16 – “Our first week here has been great! We’ve been up around 4:00 AM every morning to head out to the project site and gather data before it gets unbearably hot. We have been gathering GPS tracks and waypoints, slope measurements, and taking tons of photographs. After seeing CIRENAS’s new campus site, as well as the wildlife refuge across the road, it seems to make the most sense for us to focus our energies on the trails in the wildlife refuge, which present some significant challenges…”

Last fall, Karla Cosgriff and Chris Shanks of CIRENAS came to Conway and gave a presentation about their property in Costa Rica and the work they do in the areas of education, research, community, and innovation. Conway staff then worked with them to develop the project that Kate and Dave have just begun, with financial support from the Blue Yak Foundation.

David Weber headshot

“…As far as the nature reserve trails are concerned, we learned yesterday that they were originally made following old cattle paths (the reserve is an old pasture that was put into conservation roughly 12 years ago) and do not, therefore, always take the best route to avoid major problems related to erosion and accessibility. We have spent a significant amount of time carefully mapping current problem areas along the trails as well as those areas that we feel would be best dealt with through rerouting of the trail entirely. The vegetation is so dense that we are unable to physically lay out proposed reroutes, but we have marked the departure and re-entry points from the existing trails so that we can produce a map of proposed changes. In addition, we have been particularly diligent in documenting those areas along the trails that are experiencing severe erosion but which do not present any obvious possibility for rerouting. In these areas, we hope to be able to provide remedial suggestions for the folks down here to implement…”

Once back at Conway this week, Kate and Dave will continue working with the CIRENAS team remotely. Conway students spend the first several weeks of each term in analysis, and only offer design solutions once they understand the needs of the site and client very well.

“…Tomorrow morning, we are heading up to the cloud forest reserve in Monteverde with Karla and her two children for the weekend. We hope to get a better sense of how trails have been designed to successfully deal with water as well as get a bit more of a sense of Costa Rica’s landscape variations.”

So far, the CIRENAS staff has identified four themes for the Conway team to focus on (these can–and often do–change!):

  • Trail redesign
  • Interperative/educational materials for the nature reserve
  • Maintenance assessment
  • Improved exposure and public awareness

At the end of May, along with seven other Conway teams, they’ll give a preliminary presentation of their design ideas (guests are welcome; register here). Finally, at the end of June they’ll deliver a plan that CIRENAS can use to guide the continued development of their amazing facilities.

Then on June 27th they graduate!! Dave, Kate, and the other members of Conway’s Class of 2015 will step out into the world having completed three projects, ready to tackle many more as professional planners and designers. It’s amazing how much learning Conway fits into ten months.