Best Practices

Thinking about how construction projects like new roads, trails, or visitor facilities will look in the landscape is an important part of project planning in parks. The best management practices outlined below highlight some of the visual considerations that are helpful when designing park projects. These same concepts are used widely in landscape architecture/design and can be useful for providing constructive input on projects beyond park boundaries.

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Shape matters

Many landscapes have some dominant characteristics related to forms and lines– irregular mountaintops, curving rivers, horizontal plains. Echoing the natural forms and lines of the area will help a project fit in. For example, low, horizontal structures often blend in flat open landscapes while taller structures work better in areas with tall trees or buildings.

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Be color smart

Color is one of the most critical decisions in the design aspect of any project. Use colors that blend with the surrounding landscape to help your project fit in. Dark colors recede while light colors are usually more noticeable. Consider seasonal variation in the surrounding landscape when choosing colors.

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Stay in scale

Plan the size and height (scale) of a project so that it fits with surrounding elements and does not become a dominant feature. Try to avoid breaking the skyline from key vistas with new elements so that the horizon retains its current character.

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Site Right

Select sites for projects that will avoid or minimize negative effects on existing views. Consider distance from key views, minimizing site footprints, and clustering development.

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Veg out

Consider selective clearing or thinning of vegetation as part of vista management if important views are blocked by vegetation. Also, promote use of native species when revegetating disturbed areas. Avoid planting straight lines of trees or shrubs since artificial lines tend to draw attention in a natural landscape.

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Keep them hidden

Screen projects you want out of public view with natural topography or vegetation when possible. Contouring and/or adding native plantings may be options for concealing projects when existing topography and vegetation are not sufficient.

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Reflect on materials

Low-reflective materials help reduce glare from sunlight. In natural landscapes, more heavily textured materials often blend better than those with a smooth finish. Better-looking, more durable projects result from using high quality materials appropriate to the setting.

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Keep your focus

Avoid creating new focal points by placing projects where they do not detract from views you want visitors to see. Successful projects can perform a function (e.g., directional signage or interpretive panels) without detracting from the visual experience.

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Look Around

Consider what project areas look like from key vistas in other parts of the park as well as from outside the park. Are views likely to be affected by a proposed project? Engage adjacent landowners, planners, developers, and other stakeholders in cooperative conservation.

Last updated: September 8, 2022


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