Prior to the construction of a 400 LF pile-supported timber boardwalk and low-profile timber pond access platforms built by Stevensville’s Dissen & Juhn Company, accessing the Lawrence Wetlands Preserve in Chestertown, Md., an urban nature center owned and operated by the Sultana Education Foundation (SEF), meant sporting boots and gingerly wading through the environmentally sensitive area.
If visitors weren’t comfortable with this “up close and personal” way of exploring or were in a wheelchair or used a walker, it curtailed the potential to truly experience this unique, non-tidal wetlands education resource.
But all that changed thanks to a recently opened pedestrian boardwalk. For the first time visitors can explore parts of the property previously out of reach. “The boardwalk and platforms enable visitors to completely immerse themselves. This location was largely hidden to most people,” says John Mann, Lawrence Wetlands Preserve Manager.
The project entailed furnishing and installing a 400’L x 6’ wide ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) timber boardwalk that elevated wetlands enthusiasts a full 3’ off the water. The boardwalk features a full-length timber handrail and several extra-wide viewing areas, or “teaching nodes”, for student groups to observe the diversity of plants and wildlife that inhabit the area including deer, a variety of small mammals, and birds.
The two 32’L x 6’W pond access platforms, which are accessed from the site’s circular trail network, were constructed close to the pond’s surface to enable close-up observation of aquatic plants, and pond creatures such as fish, frogs, turtles, and insects.
The project positioned perfectly in Dissen & Juhn’s wheelhouse. “Over our 50 year history Dissen & Juhn has had the pleasure of working with a variety of communities and organizations to build infrastructure that continues to impact the area,” says Gil Dissen, President of Dissen & Juhn Company. “These types of projects provide an opportunity for us to be good stewards to the environment we work in. The fact that this project is enabling future generations to explore and learn about non-tidal wetlands and swamps and their important roles is particularly gratifying,” Dissen adds.
“There’s always a fine balance when you build infrastructure in nature, but the construction methods Dissen & Juhn used allowed us to offer the outdoor educational experience in the least obtrusive way possible,” he adds.
Not surprising building the boardwalk required the use of heavy equipment in an environmentally sensitive area. To protect the environmentally sensitive soils and plants, Dissen & Juhn Company constructed a temporary service road of inert ground protection mats. These rigid structures made of engineered plastic keep heavy construction equipment from damaging the ecosystem without imparting contaminants into the soil.
“That was one of the things we were looking for in a contractor,” says Mann. “It was reassuring to go with a firm that has experience in working in critical areas. The project worked out better than we even imagined though. In fact calling the final construction a boardwalk sells it short. The aesthetics and attention to detail are amazing. Dissen & Juhn not only met all our requests, but also exceeded our expectations,” he adds.
For Sultana Education Foundation President and Founder Drew McMullen, it was Dissen & Juhn Company’s creative problem solving skills that made them the best contractor for the project. “Dissen & Juhn did a phenomenal job. The boardwalk and platforms are beautiful and will play a huge role in our ability to get kids and groups to areas we couldn’t take them previously,” says McMullen.
“It really took a lot of outside of the box thinking to build what we had envisioned, and they weren’t the least bit intimidated. Dissen & Juhn are not only pros, but also everyone was considerate and very communicative. We couldn’t have hoped for a nicer company to work with,” he adds.
The Sultana Education Foundation team is gearing up for summer programming at their new “living classroom.” The boardwalk and platform construction are part of a larger plan, which includes the construction of the 1,200-square-foot Harwood Nature Center, which is expected to begin this summer. The structure is founded on timber piles installed by Dissen & Juhn.
The Nature Center will feature a multi-purpose space for classroom instruction, lectures, social gatherings, and a variety of other hands-on activities. It will also feature a multi-level, covered outdoor deck with bench seating for outdoor use. The anticipated opening of the Harwood Nature Center is 2024.