Woman wearing a hat, surrounded by a graphic wreath of heartsDuring this past year of COVID-19, many have rediscovered the value of escaping to the outdoors. Our 2020 F. Otto Haas Honor Award recipient, Brenda Barrett, has long fostered an appreciation for landscape conservation and historic preservation. She is the editor of the Living Landscape Observer, a website providing commentary on land conservation, historic preservation and sustainable communities.

She has served as the Director of Recreation and Conservation in the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (2007-2011), the National Coordinator for Heritage Areas for the U.S. National Park Service (2001-2007), and the Director of Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Historic Preservation (1979-2000). She is currently a member of the ICOMOS Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes and a former Board member of US ICOMOS.

She enjoys living in Bellevue Park, the very special spot that gets her valentine. Read our interview, below.

Bellevue Park Neighborhood, Harrisburg (Dauphin County). Designed by Warren Manning 1909

What is the history/relevance of this place?

Bellevue Park is a 132-acre residential subdivision in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, designed in1909 by pre-eminent landscape architect Warren Manning (1860-1938). The landscaped grounds of this community represent an important early 20th-century collaboration between Manning and Harrisburg beautification advocate J. Horace McFarland (1859-1948). The park retains, a century later, many original features: woodland paths, open space reservations, and, as the centerpiece of the development, two ponds and other water features.

A small pond, ringed by snow and trees, is partially iced over. In the distance, through the trees, you can make out the houses of the neighborhood. To the left, a path curves down a slope and parallels the edge of the pond.
Bellevue Park, Lower Pond in winter, Harrisburg, Dauphin County. Photo by Dan Stern.

What was your first connection with this place and why is it special to you?

The Park is more than just a masterpiece of residential design. It has been my family’s home for more than three decades. Our children grew up visiting the ducks on the ponds, learning to identify the many specimen trees, and exploring the paths and reservations. During the Pandemic my husband and I enjoy walking the park’s winding streets and greeting our neighbors who are doing the same. The architectural variety of the houses and vistas that change around every bend and in every season offer refreshment to the spirit.

Why should people come and visit?

Planners and housing developers of today could learn much by studying Bellevue Park.

It is an outstanding example of residential development designed in harmony with existing conditions such as topography and significant vegetative features. As a landscape architect, Warren Manning paid close attention to scenic views and vistas throughout the site and preserved them by burying all the utilities. The Picturesque layout of winding roads and pedestrian paths work with the varying elevations of the land, and the five different reservations, or small parks, are central to the design as an “emerald ribbon,” a scenic passageway through the neighborhood. Ponds and other water features are also integral to the plan of Bellevue Park, providing residents and visitors access to nature and to recreation.

Does the park face any issues?

Recently the community was challenged by a proposal from a regional authority, Capitol Region Water, to retrofit the park’s ponds to retain more storm waters and better manage runoff into the Susquehanna River. Recognizing both the environmental benefits of the project as well as the historic value of the designed landscape both groups worked together to find a solution. And, in the good news department, a preliminary plan has been developed that will achieve both goals.

Learn more about landscape conservation and Brenda’s work at the Living Landscape Observer. Read one of Brenda’s most popular posts: “Pennsylvania’s Conservation Landscapes: A Story of Success.”

The Living Landscape Observer offers commentary and information on the emerging field of large landscape conservation. This approach emphasizes the preservation of a “sense of place” and blends ingredients of land conservation, heritage preservation, and sustainable community development. The term “living landscape” is used because it does not reflect any existing designation or program, but rather captures the broad interests of land conservancies, heritage areas, watershed organizations, long distance trails, community based tourism initiatives, and the many other organizations and individuals that are coming together around regional and place-based initiatives.

The value of the Living Landscape Observer is how well it meets the need of those who are working on the ground and in a place. There are many ways to participate: join by commenting, sending news and events or consider becoming an Occasional Observer. Get Involved!