Modeling the Restoration of the Bamboo Walk, Summit Park, Panama

2009-2010 David Bird International Fellow Kyle Haley ’09

Kyle Haley and Alicia Batista were the inaugural David Bird International Service Fellows (2010-2011).

My goal as part of the 2009 David Bird International Fellowship was to address the challenges facing the area of Summit Park, Panama known as the Bamboo Walk and design and build any remediation of the area deemed appropriate. In doing so I aimed to mimic natural riparian corridors in Panama and create an environment that is ecologically sound, aesthetic, and educational to park visitors.

Approaching the Bamboo Walk from the most western access road is awe inspiring. A forest of Guadua angustifolia bamboo, reaching nearly sixty feet to the sky, bends slightly in over an ephemeral creek so that it resembles a grand chapel.

After making all initial analyses, I marked my focus area. The project encompasses both sides of the stream starting at the entrance from the western access road and roughly two hundred yards into the Bamboo Walk. The main area of concern was between the concrete path and the stream. I also discovered that resources were limited and that, for the most part, I would be working solo.

Bamboo walk at Summit Park, before planting.

Part of the bamboo walk at Summit Park, before planting.

Materials were my greatest challenge. The park housed a large nursery that proved very useful for a variety of species I was looking for. Other species were gathered from a volunteer’s home as well as along a new highway construction project that would have otherwise destroyed the plants. This new highway project proved useful as a source for stone material and wood debris as well. Scraps of rebar, abandoned, cured bamboo, and plenty of mulch were found near park’s maintenance buildings. The only items I purchased were rope and concrete.

Bamboo walk at Summmit Park after planting

The bamboo walk at Summit Park, after planting.

I began my installation work at the entrance to the Bamboo Walk. Rebar, rope, and salvaged bamboo created a retaining wall on either side of the stream level along the access road. Backfilled with soil and mulch, the retaining wall was planted with two varieties of native bamboo, Phyllostachys aurea and Muhlenbergia spp. A ground cover of Calathea spp., collected from the park grounds, secured the soil.

Although I had yet to experience such an event, evidence of violent flooding made me uncertain if this vegetated bed would last the week. The riparian corridor between the stream and pedestrian path was the next challenge. Species needed not only to thrive in the shade, but also handle damp soils, occasional flooding, and five to six months of little to no precipitation. The vegetation was also the key to breaking up compacted soil and alleviating erosion. I needed an environment to mimic. I hiked up the stream outside of the park’s boundary into the protected canal zone to observe and make note of the vegetation and additional characteristics of a natural riparian corridor. Concerned about the sudden, violent floods, I gathered large sections of hardwood from the park’s grounds, drilled holes in them, and secured them to the ground with rebar

Several days later, the flood came fast and furious. Naturally, the current in the center of the stream roared uninterrupted, but the banks with the secured debris decreased the current’s velocity. The water subsided and the vegetation, for the most part, remained.

The last segment of the project focused on educating the public about the various uses of bamboo. Summit Park’s graphic designer Ivan Rodriguez and I created large flowers made from bamboo that were installed within the focus area to highlight the use of bamboo as art. We also built a large bamboo marimba that we installed along the pathway that visitors could play to create music. Children and adults alike were invited to make the connection that this incredible plant that towers over their heads plays a role in creativity, beauty, and function.

The most violent rainstorm arrived two days before my departure. Within thirty minutes the stream rose four feet inundating the entire installation and well above the access road. Large tree limbs and debris came crashing through the bamboo. Filled with trepidation as the rain stopped and the water receded, I was thankful as the entire installation revealed itself intact and unharmed.