Designing & Enjoying Parks: Hidden Lake trail

Take a walk with Tom Mortensen, PLA, ASLA, site planner / landscape architect / senior project manager in raSmith’s Site Design Group, as he talks about his passion for park design, creating connections with nature, and encouraging people to spend more time enjoying the outdoors. This video highlights the beauty of this park and the unique challenges encountered in designing a trail that weaves its way through what was once a quarry. This project is just one of many projects in Tom’s park design portfolio that spans 20 years.

What I find really interesting about working with our park design team at raSmith is that it’s comprised of a lot of different disciplines. We have engineers, landscape architects, and site planners.

In order to make these parks come together, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that needs to be done in the planning and understanding of the site analysis. Bringing that to the public and getting their input is really exciting because then everyone has ownership in it. They all have their say about what they want to see in the park, including the neighbors and adjacent landowners. The community comes to these meetings, and we really gather a lot of input from that process.

The other thing that I think is really important about park design is that this has to be built. In order to build this, our construction services team and surveyors also have a role to play in working with the park development team. There’s a lot of different disciplines that are involved to make this all come together.

When we started this project, this was all a wooded site. It was a thicket. We walked through here and identified the desirable trees that we wanted to work around. I call it ground-truthing. When you ground-truth, you walk the site and really experience potentially what these spaces could be. One of the assets of this park is the mature trees that we were able to retain and protect and work into the overall design of the park.

A lot of communities have really embraced and understood how important public spaces are. People need to get outside more, they need to interact, and have connections with nature. As a result of that, I’m seeing a lot of communities throughout Wisconsin, and other states, really pushing the park design and improving their parks and investing in the parks because it’s such an important community asset.

Trails to me, I call them lineal parks because they connect people to certain areas, but they also are a valuable asset from the standpoint of people getting outside and creating destinations and just enjoying nature.

In this park, some of the challenges that we had, besides retaining and protecting a lot of the existing trees, were the wetlands. We had to do a wetland inventory and a wetland delineation. As a result of that, we had to create two bridges that not only bicyclists and pedestrians could get across but also emergency vehicles and police. We had to design them to handle that weight, but also make them wide enough so that emergency vehicles could get in on the path. If something should happen on the Greenway Trail, they needed access to it. We had to work closely with the police department and fire department in order to design and build these bridges over the wetlands.

One of the important things about this trail, the Hidden Lake Trail and Hidden Lake Park, is that the park is publically owned by the City of Brookfield, but the trail is on private land. We had to negotiate an easement with the landowner in order to connect the trail up to the other side of the park. There’s a lot of negotiations that go on with these types of projects, and it’s never easy. Luckily the private landowner allowed the easement to happen. Now the public has a scenic overlook overlooking the lake and a lot of viewsheds and vistas from which they can appreciate the lake from the trail itself. It will just remain in an easement indefinitely.

I’m very fortunate to have been involved in designing parks over the last 20 years. I still remember the first park project I worked on and how important that was to that community. I’ve done both passive recreation and trails, active recreation, and sports complexes. It always gives me a really special feeling when I go back to these places and see the public interacting in these spaces and really enjoying what we’ve designed as a team. It really adds a lot of value to my overall profession and career. It gives me a lot of satisfaction as a landscape architect and a park designer, having been part of these really important projects in communities throughout the state.