Cypress Nature Park Charette

Until we moved to Montgomery, we’d never heard of a charrette before. For those not in the know, the term “charrette” basically means a session where people get together to come up with a design for a shared project. Wikipedia is pretty sketchy on the term’s origins – the root of the word is French for “cart,” and may come from students riding to school in a cart finishing their work, or carts that went around collecting student work, or politicians grouped together for a shared project. Wherever the word came from, Montgomery’s got to be one of the nation’s leading cities when it comes to holding charrettes. It really does seem that the city’s having them every few months, for all kinds of neighborhoods and ideas. The visions, plans and inputs then go to the city’s Department of Development for further comment and elaboration, receiving various levels of priority as funding and political interest allow.

This week, citizens from all over town are invited to a charrette for planning the new Cypress Nature Park. Local architect Andrew Cole-Tyson wrote here at MML about Cypress Park about a year ago, and now it seems like momentum is really picking up to plan, design, and move forward.

Are you less than clear about what, exactly, we’re talking about? You’re not alone. Most people are unaware or only dimly aware that there’s a magnificent, multi-habitat wetland that adjoins downtown Montgomery. But there is such a thing. The map below, lifted from the nature park’s website, shows that the park (currently owned by the city and not open to visits) is at the end of a small creek that joins up with the Alabama River over by the Riverwalk, where there once was a Confederate shipyard. If you look north from Hank Williams’ grave (Oakwood Cemetary), you can see the treeline that marks the park’s high point, which used to be the peak of a very old bend in the Alabama River – before the river eroded down to its present position.

The city’s idea is basically to find a way to preserve the beauty and incredible biological diversity in the park while opening it up to the public. Of course, this raises age-old questions about the often-strained relationships between humans and nature: Is it really wilderness if we put kiosks and bird blinds and trails and benches in it? Does that matter? If the park will increase development, won’t this in turn endanger the park? Will there be a bike path? Can we take the bus to get there?

Fortunately, the charette is meant to be a forum to raise all these issues and any others that come to your mind. We went to the opening session last night and were fascinated to look at pictures of wildlife in the park. More than 70 folks in attendance seemed very focused and interested in raising issues including safety for humans and animals alike, accessibility, educational programs, connection to the Riverwalk and accompanying improvement of the communities adjoining the park (which are among Montgomery’s roughest and most struggling, for sure).

Tonight’s session is a 5:30-7:30 open house. Drop by, look at maps and share your opinions. Talk preservation, access, and development. Have an open mind. Help make our city even better. Tomorrow’s session is a final public meeting, from 5:30-7:00, where citizen input will be incorporated into a draft plan to be shared with the community. It’s an exciting process. Go and be a part of it. The meetings are at the City of Montgomery’s Design Studio, at One Dexter Place by the Court Square fountain.

To learn more about the Cypress Nature Park, visit their website.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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  1. Sharon Tisdsle says:

    I grew up playing in the woods behind my grandparents house on north capital parkway. I am very interested in the water shed and will volunteer to help with the project. I would love to take the tour ASAP. I did volunteer last winter to pick up trash but never got to tour the actual cypress area.

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