Honor Award Winner
Project Name: Echo Park Master Plan
Location: Burlington, Wisconsin
Design Team: Ayres Associates
Immediately after a historic flood that damaged downtown Burlington, a dam failure analysis conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources determined that the dam at Echo Lake needed to be either removed or replaced. The City hired us to lead a dynamic community engagement and master planning process to establish a vision for the park moving forward. The team focused on two design alternatives – modify the dam and restore the lake or remove the dam and free the river. Led by the design team and an active steering committee composed of local community members, the goal was to develop two plans for local residents to vote on during a fall referendum.
To the community, this project was everything. It juxtaposed historic relevance (the lake) with environmental stewardship (the river). Community engagement and the steering committee generated important conversations between residents. Differing opinions remain on what is right for Burlington, but residents can now support the restoration process even if their preferred option is not selected.
While the master plan for both the park and lake developed a 30-year vision for the park, the design team and steering committee crafted a phased park plan that recommended critical improvements as part of the referendum vote while leaving additional improvements relating to parking, playground, pavilion, community plaza, and restroom facilities to be decided in the future. Voters chose the $9.1 million dam preservation and lake restoration option over the $8.7 million dam removal and river restoration option.
The most challenging factor was how to build consensus around two options with such polarizing viewpoints. With the history of the lake being held in such high regard, the community was passionate at every community engagement, steering committee, and online social group. However, the process the team went through built trust and conversation between groups through listening and honest response.
Other special factors included working with private event venues within a public park to streamline efficiencies in parking and reduce conflict between private and public events.
Improving long-term water quality in a lake that is largely shallow and stagnant – without incurring significant costs – was another challenge. The initial investment of lake dredging is necessary to remove years of river sediment, but the addition of native wetland habitat restoration and modified water channel design improves water quality through the continued flow of fresh water.
Major transportation corridors and a rail track have prevented pedestrians and bicyclists from easily accessing the site. An active railroad separates the park from downtown, while Milwaukee Avenue separates Echo Park from surrounding greenspace and neighborhoods. By looking closely at property ownership and existing circulation patterns, We were able to identify critical points of connection that could help link this park to the downtown core and surrounding area with phased, minor improvements.