Gateway to Devil’s Den Preserve
The Nature Conservancy owns and manages the Devil’s Den Preserve, the largest preserve in southwestern Connecticut with 1,746 acres of woodlands, wetlands, and rugged north-south rocky ridges. In 1997, The Nature Conservancy and the Town of Weston entered into a cooperative agreement to purchase, conserve, and create a “Gateway to The Den” on the Lachat Farm located adjacent to Devil’s Den Preserve. The “Gateway” will serve as a conservation education and research facility and as the main Visitors Center and entrance to the Preserve.
The Building Committee retained Edgcomb Design Group (Matthew Millan was one of 3 principals at that time) to provide master planning to transform the 42-acre farmstead into a Gateway property complete with access, parking, trails, a visitor center with classrooms, administrative offices, maintenance and storage facilities. A design charrette and several public and private meetings generated guiding principles and project goals. Some of the guiding principles of the master plan include:
- Design an environment that welcomes and educates all visitors: students, volunteers, recreators and employees.
- Implement a master plan in which necessary improvements contribute towards a larger vision and harmonize with the developed farm.
- Honor and enhance the nature of the site by understanding the natural and manmade conditions.
- Maintain the rural and agricultural character of the property while creating a distinctive presence for the center.
- Provide an enriching environmental setting to teach, learn, work and visit that will energize and inspire users and visitors.
The design team considered a range of development options, and the Committee consistently favored preserving existing buildings along the front of the property and enhancing the existing farm appearance from the road. We identified the maple street trees, farmhouse, barn complex and south facing barnyard, western field and street side hedgerow as the defining features to be maintained. We developed a farmyard setting of existing buildings and new construction to provide visitor orientation, outdoor place making and a gateway to the hiking trails. The new Conservation Center, located behind the farmhouse, creates a historically correct “dooryard” setting of grouped buildings that allows a campus style sharing of utilities, minimizes site disturbance and allows future growth.
The Gateway needs to accommodate an average of 25 cars per day with peak capacity of 125 cars and access and drop-off area for 2 buses. The entry drive configuration separates the vehicle and bus traffic from the pedestrian areas of the property and preserves the scale and feel of the agricultural landscape. It exposes visitors to the rolling topography of the eastern fields and conceals the drive and parking areas from the surrounding roads. Additional site improvements include wetlands enhancement and creation of a series of walking trails to expand visitors’ appreciation of the property and provide linkages to the Devil’s Den Preserve.