Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve
The first National Park on the island founded in 2006 was conceived in a culture of cooperation, collaboration, and enthusiasm. Jointly created by the Bahamas National Trust … Read More
The first National Park on the island founded in 2006 was conceived in a culture of cooperation, collaboration, and enthusiasm. Jointly created by the Bahamas National Trust, a non-profit organization that manages the national parks in The Bahamas, and a private not-for-profit foundation founded in 2004 by the estate of a philanthropist and investment genius, the site is a native plant preserve on the island of Eleuthera in The Bahamas.
The 25-acre preserve is comprised mostly of elevated, rocky, dry forest, called coppice, and lower degraded areas that had been cultivated. The site’s native ecology was being impacted by flourishing invasive, exotic trees and rubbish from an illegal, on-site dump.
Memorializing the foundation’s founder, who, along with his widowed wife, was a longtime resident of the sparsely Bahamian-populated island, the project’s primary focus was to raise awareness of Bahamian Plant Diversity and bush medicine, aligning with one of the six broad areas for the foundation’s philanthropic legacy: Preservation of Nature and Gardens. The project was completed in two phases, both with similar concepts of expanding educational opportunities into the preserve.
Through Phase I, the landscape architect orchestrated the preserve’s design and siting of main facility structures including a visitor center, educational pavilion, back of house operations center, and restrooms. In addition, the landscape architect designed vehicular and pedestrian circulation and parking associated. There were extensive coppice restoration and the creation of ecosystem-driven gardens including bush medicine exhibition gardens. Phase I also laid the foundation for the visitor experience throughout the preserve, utilizing existing saltwater marsh with a mature stand of red mangroves, secondary dune, and the native coppice, as highlighted ecosystems.
The arrival experience is richly defined by local limestone border walls, built by local masons, and an overhead pergola. Visitors pass over an ancient dune, down to the low lands to a parking area, planted to feel like it was etched out of an existing coppice. The procession to the visitor’s center is mysterious, as one must wind through a seemingly pre-existent coppice. The visitor’s center structure was conceived by the landscape architect, to be a portal to the preserve gardens. This visitor’s center was located in the vicinity of the illegal dump. The dump was excavated, to remove all rubbish, revealing the textured surface of an ancient reef cap. The existing coconut palms which had sprouted from dumped yard waste were silent witnesses of the past, but now have a voice in the preserve’s regeneration.
As one passes through the building, from garden to garden, the space is enlivened by a cascade of recirculating water down the face of the ancient dune. The cascade splashes into a lagoon created through the excavation of the dump, below the water table. Soon after its creation, the lagoon was quickly inhabited by birds and dragonflies.
After circumnavigating the lagoon and crossing the water course, the path descends to a boardwalk that passes through a red mangrove stand. Across the boardwalks are a series of bush medicine exhibitions. The Education Pavilion, the departure point for nature trails, is a flexible structure that provides shelter for outdoor classroom lessons, weddings, and other group gatherings. More bush medicine exhibitions occur along open space trails past the education pavilion if one prefers to return to the visitor’s center. All trail systems lead to the visitor’s center as well as a dramatic viewing tower sited by the Bahamas National Trust botanist. Great vistas from the viewing tower across the immense Bahamian Coppice are celebrated.
Phase II aspired to feature other Bahamian ecosystems and make additional educational opportunities available to the preserve visitors. Major new additions included a native plant propagation center, designed by the landscape architect, a freshwater wetland created from a pre-existent agricultural cistern, and a historical agricultural exhibition garden located on the site’s most fertile soils, made rich from eons of rainwater erosion from higher ground. Phase II also incorporated the careful excavation of underground formations of limestone oxidized through rainwater erosion, exposing hidden site geology to visitors.
By the end of Phase II, twenty percent of the preserve had been restored to native vegetation and converted into accessible gardens. It has become a sanctuary for humans, animals, and insects. The public has embraced the preserve, and record numbers of visitors are propagating awareness of this native oasis. The landscape architect found the project rewarding, collaborating with a variety of stakeholders, including the local community to unearth the best solutions to the project’s challenges. There are plans for expansion of the preserve, as well as a Phase III in the near future.
Year of Completion
The Bahamas National Trust and the Leon Levy Foundation