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Penn State Students Find Solutions at Yellowstone
Team from Geodesign Program

Penn State Students Find Solutions at Yellowstone

Yellowstone became the first national park in 1872, allowing visitors from near and far to enjoy its natural beauty. Due to some environmental factors, the park and its surrounding communities are facing issues that may threaten the land's delicate balance.

The Penn State graduate students in the university's Geodesign program, who were registered for the Rural/Regional Geodesign Challenges studio course last semester, were able to apply their knowledge to help develop a large-scale recovery, restoration and sustainability plan for Yellowstone National Park. Geodesign is a specific design process with central tenets that include immediate feedback, collaborative decision-making and assessment of site performance and conditions. Several students in the program received their undergraduate degrees in landscape architecture.

According to Yellowstone officials, due to several environmental issues, the animals that the park had been working to protect over the years have been traveling north to Paradise Valley, Montana, which is just beyond the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. The area is home to many ranchers and is also known to attract vacationers. This scenario is problematic for the animals, ranchers, visitors and the local government.

The solution to the region's challenges, according to park officials, would be to develop a long-term plan for both the restoration and recovery of the park's natural communities, and for the sustainability of the human population in the area.

One of the tenants in geodesign is to design with an intent and purpose that encompasses physical, temporal, conceptual or relational relationships. Therefore, the Penn State team used the idea of the spatial and the temporal relationships of the area by suggesting that ranchers allow cattle to use the prairie land in Park County during the summer months and then allow the buffalo and elk use it in the winter, when they need the grasslands.

The second concept from the team looked to the Yellowstone River, which flows through the area and is home to an abundance of trout. It is also the only contiguous undammed river in the United States. Many people come to the area for the trout fishing, which provides an economic boost in the region. However, due to cement construction currently being used to slow down runoff stormwater, water pollution becomes an issue. This poisons the trout and can harm those who eat the affected fish.

The team proposed planting willow in the river. Willow is known to attract beavers which would eat the willow and also use it to build dams. In the process of building the dams, the beavers would also be replanting the willow which then produces ponds that both slow down the flow of water and provide a home for the baby trout.

The class submitted their recommendations to the Yellowstone officials. They will be reviewing the scenarios, and, according to Penn State's website, there are plans to take the project forward. Utilizing the geodesign framework has provided a transparent and open record of the process for the steering committee to use throughout the next steps.

To read the full report of the collaborative project, click HERE.

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December 5, 2019, 6:53 am PDT

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