What can a set of decades-old wildlife crossings tell us?
By Adam Regn Arvidson, FASLA
In the 1920s the businessman William du Pont Jr. began buying up land in northeastern Maryland, near the border with Pennsylvania and Delaware. Du Pont wanted space for peace and quiet and uninterrupted fox hunting. He called the place Foxcatcher Farm. It spanned two states and more than 7,000 acres. This was not some trackless wilderness. Because he’d bought existing homesteads, du Pont ended up with land crossed by public roadways—not ideal for fox hunts. So he built what may very well be the first wildlife crossings in the nation.
Bridges and culverts connect Foxcatcher. “These were done in the 1940s and 1950s, so it was truly a massive undertaking,” says Paul Drummond, ASLA, a landscape architect in Baltimore who has researched the crossings. Drummond’s family is from the area (some worked for the du Ponts) and, he says, his curiosity was piqued by visits while attending the University of Maryland. Today, Foxcatcher is public land. After du Pont died in 1965, the state of Maryland bought some 5,600 acres south of the border and named it the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area. Equestrians still ply the miles of trails—some new, some on repurposed hedgerows, driveways, and lanes (ghosts of the former estate)—sharing space with hikers and mountain bikers.
They all use the crossings. The culverts are 12 feet in diameter, built to accommodate a rider on horseback. The bridges, whether at grade over a sunken roadway or steeple-backed, are wide enough for a small horse-drawn buggy. Tall fencing funnels all users, both human and animal, to the crossings and off roads.
Drummond’s self-directed research project began in 2012, once he had become employed by Design Collective in Baltimore. On his own time and dime, he secured a “minimal impact use agreement” from the state, which allowed him to study the nine remaining crossings. He placed motion-activated cameras at each crossing, and after about eight months he had tens of thousands of photos of equestrians and bikers, deer and foxes. Because he’d set up a camera at each end of the crossing, he could correlate images to prove that animals were passing through rather than sheltering. To complement the field research, Drummond studied du Pont’s papers at the Hagley Museum in Wilmington, Delaware. He found construction documents and as-builts for the culverts, bridges, and fences along with letters from du Pont revealing his desire to create a wildlife refuge that would literally bridge the roadways.
“I became fascinated about how [these crossings] work,” Drummond says, “whether the principles are effective, and how we can apply them to other crossings.” He found significant round-the-clock use by animals, which seem to prefer the culverts. Drummond hypothesizes that culverts must seem more intuitive in the landscape. They’re often placed where ephemeral streams flow, in line with natural routes that provide continuous shelter. In essence, they are convenient. As a labor of love, Drummond’s Foxcatcher research project may never be over, but he is now turning his attention to contemporary examples. “That’s where I am right now,” he says, “understanding how this little lesson can be applied on a huge scale.”
Adam Regn Arvidson, FASLA, is the Director of Strategic Planning for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. He is at work on a book about endangered plants and animals, due out in 2018.