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Landscape Patterns for Air Force Bases An Ecologically-Driven, Cost-Reducing System for Sustainable Landscape Design and Management Prepared by Kate Cholakis and Laura J. Rissolo

Introduction In response to recent budget cuts to landscape management at the Westover Air Reserve Base, two students of the Conway School of Landscape Design were selected to propose new land management strategies as well as planting plans for the 320 acre site in Chicopee, Massachusetts.This document consists of excerpts from the final reports, which were completed in June 2011. The authors of the reports, Kate Cholakis and Laura Rissolo, believe that the work completed for the base can be applied to a wide range of military, public, and institutional landscapes. The method proposed in the documents holds the potential to reduce costs for landscaping while creating an enjoyable, functional, and meaningful landscape for people. After completing the project in June 2011, Cholakis and Rissolo graduated from the Conway School with Masters degrees in Sustainable Landscape Design and Planning. Although both authors are based in New England, they will consider opportunities to present the project in greater detail. Contact information is provided on page 3.

In face of economic uncertainty, changing current landscape practices is not only sensible, but necessary. - Excerpt from the executive summary of the final document



Adapting existing physical landscapes and management practices to maximize these benefits necessitates adopting the following 7-step process: 1) Identify Project Goals 2) Analyze Existing Conditions 3) Research Context 4) Craft Design Solutions 5) Develop Landscape Patterns 6) Apply the Landscape Patterns 7) Produce an Implementation Plan

1) Identify Project Goals

This step begins with defining the form that the project will take. For Westover, this form was determined to be a complete and detailed set of planting plans for ten prioritized sites on base, planting design templates for two categories of buildings, and restoration and maintenance strategies for the broader 320 acre landscaped area of the base. Identifying and prioritizing project goals required thoroughly examining Department of Defense standards for landscape management, delivering presentations and facilitating discussions with representatives of the site, and mapping or otherwise illustrating the results.

Approaching landscape management through the following process has several potential benefits: • Enhanced security through compliance with strict military regulations (Antiterrorism standards and Bird/Wildlife Strike Hazard standards) • Improved habitat for rare and endangered plants and animals and improved overall ecological integrity through the use of regionally native plants and the management of invasive plants • Enhanced aesthetic appeal of the landscape for quality of life at the base • Significant cost savings in landscape management through the reduction of inputs and irrigation

The final document presents a system for landscape management that is predicted to save $1,000,000 over a ten year period if 200 acres of existing lawn are converted to native wildflower meadows.* * Installation costs are estimated around $989,000 to convert 200 acres of existing turf to native wildflower/grass meadows. Annual maintenance after installation is estimated to cost $15,000 annually, or $75 per acre. Current expenses on landscape maintenance for turf lawn total around $240,000, or $1,200 per acre. These savings would be realized after the fifth year of implementation.

Improve Safety and Security

Enhance Landscape Appearance

Use of Native Plants Comply with AntiTerrorism Standards

Reduce Landscape Costs

Manage Invasive Plants

Improve ecological functioning of landscape

Utilize Xeriscaping Reduce Chemical and Mechanical Inputs

Project Goals

This material is based upon work supported by the Department of the Air Force under USAMRAA Agreement No. W81XWH-08-2-0048, 0022, 28 Sept 2010

Landscape Patterns for Air Force Bases

An Ecologically-Driven, Cost-Reducing System for Sustainable Landscape Design and Management




Existing: Dense foundation plantings block sight lines at Westover. Antiterrorism Force Protection standards require that a 6 inch tall object placed within 33 feet of the building must be visible from both within and outside of the structure.

Proposed: Low groundcovers and tall shrubs and trees maintain sight lines within 33 feet of each building.

Existing: Maintaining 250 acres of high-input grass lawn can cost approximately $300,000 annually.

3) Research Context

Site-specific analysis (above) should be coupled with broader contextual analysis. The use of mapping programs (ArcGIS) and research suggests how geology, land use, culture, and natural resources affect the landscape and how these factors may influence design.



At Westover, studying geologic history revealed that the base is located in a glacial sand plain.This has several important implications. First, sand plains are home to rare plant and animal communities. GIS maps of rare and endangered species habitat (NHESP) confirmed that Westover offers this habitat near the airfields.

LEGEND Waterways Waterbodies Wetlands NHESP Priority Habitat for Rare Species

0’ 0 1 50’ mile NORTH Source: Office of Geographic Information (Mass GIS), Commonwealth of Massachusetts Information Technology Division, April - June 2011.

The process of developing patterns that can be applied to the physical landscape builds upon information gathered in the previous steps. At Westover, patterns focused on three types of sand plain plant communities: the heathland, grassland, and open woodland. Researching existing natural and human-built precedents informed the application of these communities to the landscape. The location and distribution of these plant communities across the base responded to land use, safety standards, and aesthetic appeal. Additionally, these patterns provide guidelines for the installation and maintenance of the property. Landscape Pattern

Heathland Garden

Grassland/Wildflower Meadow

Design solutions may often be found within the original problems and constraints. Westover’s location on a sand plain makes conventional landscaping difficult and costly. However, there are plant communities adapted to these conditions that can, if incorporated into the design, maximize the benefits listed on page 1.

Open Woodland

Precedent Studies The landscape pattern for Westover drew inspiration from naturally-occurring sand plain and pine barren plant communities, such as those pictured at left. These patterns strive to blend human land use needs with those of ecosystems.

Base-wide Distribution of Landscape Pattern

THE ELLIPSE AND MEMORIAL AREA remain as irrigated turf grass to accommodate heavy foot traffic during events held at the base.

LEGEND Heathland Garden Mixed Lawn Grassland Native Forb/Grassland Open Woodland

Second, sandy soils are dry, infertile, and acidic. This makes conventional landscaping difficult.

4) Craft Design Solutions


5) Develop Landscape Patterns


Utilizing mapping programs (such as ArcGIS) and on-site analysis reveals the strengths and opportunities of current landscape management.


2) Analyze Existing Conditions







0.5 miles

The case for native plants that are suited to the conditions of the landscape is grounded in economics, security, and aesthetic experience. - Excerpt from the executive summary of the final document


Landscape Patterns for Air Force Bases

An Ecologically-Driven, Cost-Reducing System for Sustainable Landscape Design and Management

6) Apply the Landscape Pattern This design-focused stage of the process applies the gathered knowledge and proposed concepts to actual sites. At Westover, this involved generating landscape templates for formal landscaped areas, detailed site designs for high-priority sites, and plant lists for mixed lawns and meadows. A 61 page final document showcases these designs.

A designed booklet (above) included hand-drawn and digitally-created plans, sections, perspectives, cost tables, GIS maps, and written analyses.

Conclusion The process of adapting the Westover landscape to new standards for safety, ecological integrity, and sustainability required several steps that employ a whole-systems and multi-scaled approach. Ecological and social context drove the design process. Over a three-month period, a new vision for Westover’s landscape was created in response to these contexts. A system to reaching this vision was also prepared, offering a step-by-step, safe-to-fail approach of adaptive management.

Adapting existing landscaping on not only Air Force bases, but also on college campuses, public parks, and other institutional and civic landscapes, may require significant up-front installation costs. However, plants suited to the conditions of particular sites will reduce landscape costs over time, requiring less water, inputs, and maintenance. General McNabb of the USAF wrote that moving away from a high-input landscape “will necessitate a shift in expectations by Wing Commanders and senior leaders at all levels.”1 Making this transition will also require a shift from a static, unchanging set of strategies for landscape management to a more dynamic, continually updated set of strategies. Research, experimentation, and flexibility are fundamental components of creating a sand plain garden and ecosystem at the Westover Air Reserve Base, and at institutional and civic landscapes across the country.

7) Produce an Implementation Plan

Pairing visions of what the landscape might look like in the future with on-the-ground implementation and maintenance strategies provides clients with a method for making the transition from planning to action. For Westover, a 40 page handbook was created that outlines installation and maintenance strategies.

A sample page (left) from the Grounds Maintenance Handbook demonstrates how text and illustrations can be used to communicate specific installation and maintenance strategies.

1 US Air Force. “Common Levels of Service (LOS) standards for Grounds Maintenance.” (approved May 23 2008 by General Duncan J. McNabb,Vice Chief of Staff, USAF) May 2008.

Contact Information

To learn more about these ideas and the Westover project, or to discuss the possibility of requesting a presentation of these ideas, please contact the following two designers. Kate Cholakis M.A. Sustainable Landscape Design & Planning, Conway School B.A. Architecture and Landscape Studies, Smith College | (508) 265-1114 116 Nonotuck Street, Florence, MA 01062 Laura Rissolo M.A. Sustainable Landscape Design & Planning, Conway School Certificate of Horticulture, Institute of Ecosystem Studies B.F.A. Sculpture, University of the Arts | (203) 788-9067 53 Hipp Road, New Milford, CT 06776



Profile for Kate C.

Landscape Patterns for Institutional Landscapes  

A short white paper summarizing an approach designed by Kate Cholakis and Laura Rissolo that seeks to reduce the costs of landscape maintena...

Landscape Patterns for Institutional Landscapes  

A short white paper summarizing an approach designed by Kate Cholakis and Laura Rissolo that seeks to reduce the costs of landscape maintena...