Completion of shade structure in Burroughs Creek Park finishes phase one of local environmental project

photo by: Dylan Lysen

A new shade structure in Burroughs Creek Park features recycled and donated materials. The completion of the new structure, which was designed and built by KU architecture students, finishes phase one of the local Prairie Block project.

A new structure providing shade in Burroughs Creek Park reflects the sustainable and environmental spirit of the East Lawrence neighborhood, Keith Van de Riet said.

As part of the Prairie Block project, a community-led plan to restore native prairie and wetlands to Lawrence’s urban setting along Burroughs Creek, a University of Kansas architecture class built the structure with volunteer labor and recycled and donated materials.

“It’s nice in terms of a community looking for opportunities to enhance the environment and do it in ways that are sustainable and resourceful,” said Van de Riet, a KU assistant professor of architecture. “East Lawrence is a great place to contribute something meaningful to the community.”

With the construction of the shade structure finished, phase one of the project is now complete. To celebrate the end of the phase, the class and a coalition of local organizations pitching in for the project will host the family-friendly Prairie Block Party from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Burroughs Creek Park, 900 E. 15th St.

Van de Riet said the party would include many outdoor activities, live music, food trucks and 25 booths set up representing local nonprofit organizations. Additionally, Lawrence Mayor Lisa Larsen will lead a bike ride and walk from Hobbs Park to the Burroughs Creek Park on the Burroughs Creek Trail.

To build the new shade structure with only donated or recycled materials, the KU students used retired wood poles from Westar Energy, recycled street signs from around Douglas County and donated shade awnings.

While the structure provides shade in a park that previously had little, the students also used the opportunity to add some artistic flair to the park. The street signs on the structure were arranged to show a prairie fire on the grassland next to the creek.

The image is designed using pieces of a red stop sign for the fire, a yellow bike path sign for the burning fields, green city street signs for the prairie and blue county street signs for the creek. Aaron Lamer, a fourth-year architecture student from Salina, said it would serve as an “anchor” for the park.

“Prior to this, the park didn’t really have anything to tie it all together,” Lamer said. “It just needed something to really finish it as a park.”

The Prairie Block project is the brainchild of Suzan Hampton, a local urban designer and landscape architect who is leading a coalition of several local organizations administering the project.

For the second phase of the project, Hampton said the group hoped to plant native prairie vegetation and redevelop the wetlands in the Burroughs Creek area that sits to the east of the park. She said the group was applying for grants to fund phase two, but no timeline has been established to complete the phase.

Hampton said she thought of the project because of the issues of climate change and the flooding and pollution of the Kaw Valley watershed.

“I see all of these invasive grasses out here that aren’t doing anything for the environment,” she said of the Burroughs Creek area. “The trend right now is to do green infrastructure, which is to plant native plants in parks and trail systems so they can clean stormwater runoff while providing recreational amenities.”

She said planting native prairie and redeveloping the wetland around Burroughs Creek would help filter the stormwater runoff that eventually travels through the creek into the Kansas River.

Along with the new shade structure, the KU students carved stones showing the native prairie species, including sunflowers, rattlesnake master plant, cottonwood and river birch trees, a watershed map of Kansas and a variety of animals and insects that may live in the planned wetlands.

“Ideally it’s a moment of surprise for the kids playing in the park,” Van de Riet said of the stones. “When they see the rock, they start asking questions like, ‘What is that?'”

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