Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge

This week we began our site study of Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge in eastern Tennessee. The studio broke into pairs to study particular aspect of the site: topography, hydrology, wind and light. My partner and I studied hydrology. We began in the studio with topo maps, TVA data, KGIS data and the like. We formulated diagrams to explain the watershed boundaries, how water moved through the site, rainfall and runoff levels and historic flood patterns. Having done all this, I thought I understood the site, but there is no substitute for being on the ground.

We took a trip out to the site and had a chance to walk the land. The road in followed the main drainage way beside Bays Mountain, a major ridge in the area. When we reached the bottom, the floodplain meadows and the new woods, the path turned to track along the base of the Mountain and eventually ran parallel with another drainage way. Seeing this shift, this natural turn in the watercourse, made so much more sense than the path had on the topo map. When the drainage way ran into a broad freshwater wetland, I was not surprised. Just past the wetland was the French Broad river. The river was broader and faster than I had anticipated, but we have had a lot of rain recently and the water levels were obviously higher than usual. Of course, the upstream Douglas Dam may have been releasing more water than usual, making accommodations for the higher water levels in the reservoir.
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As part of the assignment, each pair had to locate a path somewhere within a short walk of the wetland. The site had to highlight our studied phenomenon. We chose to situate our path at a point near where the drainage way that had paralleled our walk into the park met the French Broad. More particularly, where the drainage way and a smaller fork of the river met the main body of the river. On the other side of the existing walking path were the steep, rocky slopes of Bays Mountain with deep gullies that obviously channeled rainwater into the drainage way.
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Our constructed path will draw attention to the land/ water/ land/ water topography by being perfectly straight, perpendicular to the existing path. Right before our selected location, the dirt path turns a corner, revealing our location rather suddenly. The perfectly straight lines of our path and its location across the dirt path will cause people to pause. Whether they choose to take our path or simply step over it to continue, they are likely to turn their heads to look over the bridge’s path, noticing how close the river is at that point and noticing the alternating land/water pattern.

If they choose to take our path, they will encounter a dip, a ladder bridge that takes the individual down into the drainage way for a closer look at the eroded sides and the delicate vegetation that grows in that moist, shaded environment. Once across the bridge, the path will continue linearly across the small peninsula that separates the main path and drainage way from the river channel. The path will continue out over the water for a distance of nearly fifteen feet, pointing directly to a break in the trees on the other side of the channel. This will visually connect the onlooker to greater river environment.

Walking along the path, with thick vegetation and rock beside you, it’s easy to miss the river until you are right on it. It’s also easy to miss the beautiful alternating water/ land patterns. Hopefully, our path will draw attention to both these experiences.

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