Lake Toxaway Nature Park

The Lake Toxaway Nature Park is a private park for the Lake Toxaway Estates community. Lift[ED] worked with stakeholders for three years in an intense, engaging, and fun design process to provide a park that engages all ages and nestles carefully into a woodland of native rhododendrons and other native plants. Our services for this project included participatory design workshops, conceptual design, schematic design, construction documentation, fundraising assistance, construction administration, and ongoing engagement through annual inspections.

This is a special project for Lift[ED] because owner and director Jesse Turner grew up in the area, working with his family landscape design and installation business. As a child, Turner was at his father’s heels working for homeowners in the Lake Toxaway Estates development. His school bus in elementary school often stopped at the entrance to the development where he got off and went to work with his dad instead of going home. He grew up in an enriched environment full of nature, people working together towards common goals, and landscape design. Later on he received a scholarship from the Lake Toxaway Garden Club for college, and continued to pursue his passions with the support of his community.

This park is a way of saying thanks and an opportunity for Turner to bring his design skills home. The Nature Park is the first age-inclusive family park in the development and we are happy that we are able to make it all about playing in and being surrounded by the stunning natural context that makes the area special. The park has already been filled with visitors and nature-based programs for kids have already begun. It is with great pride and pleasure that we share this unique place, and we are grateful to the Lake Toxaway Community Association for trusting us to deliver something that serves the entire community.

Webbink Residence

The Webbink family moved to their new home and found a blank canvas in the landscape. Seeking more from their outdoor experience, they contacted Lift[ED] for assistance in 2017. Our work with this family included several meetings to discuss their needs, multiple conceptual iterations, and eventually a detailed plan that they were able to use to implement the vision. The design includes garden areas throughout the property with a focus on a new back patio complete with a small pond, shade structure, and outdoor fireplace. 

Nello L. Teer Building Landscape

Completed in Spring 2018, the landscape renovations for the Nello L. Teer Building create a lush environment in a previously overgrown area. This site, like many older landscapes, was stricken with invasive exotic English Ivy, Chinese Privet, and a host of other non-beneficial plantings that eventually became unruly and served no valuable function. In response to this, we prepared a multi-layered planting design that creates a "green mulch" to discourage erosion and infestation of weeds. Native and ornamental shrubs provide accents throughout this shady place, creating seasonal interest and habitat for local fauna. 

The Raleigh School Elementary Play and Learning Area

Schematic Design

Lift[ED] returns to The Raleigh School, 5 years after working with the school on their preschool outdoor learning environment, to design the new play and learning area for the elementary school. Our work builds on a foundation of community at the school and extends learning beyond the classroom into the great outdoors. We worked with TRS teachers and administrators to solidify goals and visions into a plan that transforms their existing 2 acre play area from a simple field with play equipment into a dynamic living and learning lab. 

Conceptual Design Alternatives



Discovery Trail at Toledo Botanical Garden

Our expertise in building contextually sensitive, plant-focused education environments, helped us to arrive at Toledo Botanical Garden ready to answer the institution’s request for the design of a Discovery Trail experience. After a tour of the garden, we discovered a landscape already rich with opportunities for enhancement that could be connected through a larger thematic idea. We also identified some issues such as wayfinding and the need for overall garden signage that we hope the Discovery Trail will begin to address. Most importantly, our work with TBG staff led us to understand that “permission to play” and “playable places” are key concepts that need to be woven into the trail so as to help visitors understand where these areas of intense activity are intended to be. The trail consists of four major playable places that are connected by a loop trail which carries the visitor across the entire property, highlighting playable moments and urging them to visit larger playable places in strategic locations throughout the garden.

Nature Lab Schematic Design

The destinations marked for enhancement include The Secret Forest, a nature-inspired, imaginative play destination serving the picnic area by the Garden’s east entrance will attract families with children of all ages and be within a short distance of the parking area and existing restrooms. Also along the trail, adjacent to the existing Education building, is the Nature Lab, a garden classroom providing natural science education opportunities in a playful context. The Pondside Meadow, further along the trail to the south, is a gallery in nature featuring installation artworks that provide visitors with an immersive experience in a meadow of native perennials and grasses. Firefly Woods completes the loop and offers a range of construction play opportunities using natural materials, and can serve the larger community as a stand-alone destination conveniently located by the west parking lot. 

Secret Forest Schematic Design

Pond side Meadow Schematic Design

Firefly Woods Schematic Design

Despite these garden spaces already being present, they require a boost in programming and a thematic connection to fully realize their potential as destinations along a legible, unified trail. Lift believes the most efficient and effective use of Toledo Botanical Garden’s resources is to invest in iconic spaces with an established record of public interest and amplify their ecological and human service. Through their unification under the theme of creative, play-based learning, Lift helps Toledo Botanical Garden forward its mission of nurturing personal development through stewardship of horticulture, the arts, and nature.

The Pond at the North Carolina Museum of Art

The Pond at the NCMA is both a recreational facility and an ecological system. The project is a combined BMP that includes bio-retention, constructed wetlands, and open water to create multi-phase water treatment feature. Paths are designed to fit within the overall NCMA trail system and weave around the pond as part of the “Blue Loop”, a program sponsored by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation of NC that encourages exercise. Accessible paths weave through the lush landscape, allowing visitors to enjoy the plants and wide open space

Jesse Turner, PLA, ASLA Lift[ED] Director, was the Project Manager for the initial installation while working at another firm. During the first five years of growth, some of the plant life in the upper terrace fell into disrepair due to a lack of maintenance. In 2015 Lift[ED] was contacted by the NCMA to provide follow-up design services to renovate the upper terrace of the bio-retention area, with the goals of creating a planting scheme that provided water quality benefits and easy maintenance.

The pond at the NCMA has been studied by North Carolina State University’s Stormwater Engineering Group and found to be effective at increasing water quality. This was achieved by allowing water during various rain events to filter through bio-retention terraces that are filled with vigorous native plants. In turn, these plants provide habitat for a multitude of naturally occurring species such as red tailed hawk, crayfish, and many pollinator insects for a low impact, high result solution. 

In addition to design services, Lift[ED] coordinated with local volunteers, including a dedicated group of retiree volunteers, and the public at large to better understand ongoing maintenance needs. Lift[ED] conducted meetings to gather feedback and developed a management guidebook that assists volunteers in understanding how to care for the landscape effectively.

Primary Colors ELC - Dowd St.

BEFORE - A typical playground.

AFTER - A multi-functional Outdoor Learning Environment

Primary Colors on Dowd Street in Downtown Durham was due for an upgrade. The client was eager to take their small space and convert it from a typical playground to an Outdoor Learning Environment. Working with small spaces is one of Lift[ED]'s specialties. In this design, we were able to provide a trike track, stage, multipurpose lawn, a storage shed, water play, sand play, two playhouses, and garden areas. The space that a few pieces of playground equipment consumed was more than enough to provide a diverse environment that supports multiple types of play and learning. 

Family Recreation Area, Tuxedo NC

A growing family that loves to be outside together hired Lift[ED] to convert an existing clay tennis court into a recreation area that serves multiple generations and allows them to be together while enjoying their time outside. Taking an intergenerational approach to design, we included a walking/riding track, a multipurpose lawn, a horseshoe pit, a court for games, a fire pit, and a covered picnic area surrounded by a lush garden of native plants. 

Biological Sciences Pollinator Garden at Duke University

Located on Science Drive, across from the Bryan Center, the Biological Sciences building is an older brick building that had a landscape comprised of overgrown invasive species, many of which were exotic introductions from a quickly fading horticultural philosophy of purely ornamental values. Our plan for this stately campus building is to rejuvenate the landscape and create a large pollinator garden to compliment the biological sciences being studied inside. Students, faculty, and staff will be able to step outside and be surrounded by a layered landscape comprised of native perennials, shrubs, and trees. 

Discovery Grove at The North Carolina Museum of Art

The Discovery Grove is a nature based play area to be constructed in the existing woodland behind the Joseph M. Bryan, Jr. Theater in the NC Museum of Art Park. The grove will incorporate universal design principles and sensory garden concepts to engage a broad user population including those with all manner of abilities and mobility constraints. The woodland area where the grove will be constructed is approximately 2.45 acres, allowing ample space for the grove to accommodate visitors. The grove will expand on the NCMA’s mission to explore the intersection of art and nature by engaging directly with underserved populations, families with young and school-age children, formal, and non-formal educational programs. Unlike other areas of the park, the grove will promote interaction, exploration, and manipulation through a series of carefully selected features that exhibit and highlight the relationship between nature and art. This grove is for a variety of types of learning styles but uniquely offers tactile engagement targeted towards heightening the senses, exciting the imagination, and inspiring further discovery.

Primary Colors ELC - Dixon Rd.

Primary Colors is a 5 star licensed child care facility in Durham, NC. The owner, director, and staff are all committed to the idea that outdoor play is a critical component of childhood development. Their renovated outdoor learning environment supports their preschool classroom's curriculum, providing for extensions outside. Kids get to spend time outside, building, balancing, riding, and learning with their whole body instead of being cooped up in the classroom. Outdoor time here is fun and the learning doesn't stop, it gets amplified by nature.

Schematic design by Jesse Turner and Sarah Konradi at the Natural Learning Initiative
Design follow-through, construction drawings, and construction admin by Lift[ED].

Durant Road Preschool

Durant Road Preschool is a 5 star licensed childcare center in Raleigh, NC. Our goals for the transformation of their preschool playground into an outdoor learning environment were to create synergy across the site. We kept existing playground equipment in place, weaving a curvy 5' wide path throughout the site. The project includes many new features, but also re-purposed several existing manufactured play items such as playhouses, toy cars, and shade structures. We've taken a space that had all the common playground components and created a unique naturalized outdoor learning environment. We added a water play area with a hand pump, a grass maze, a central lawn, the "trike track", a bridge, and many natural products such as locust balance beams provided by Wild Child Workshop.

Belmont Hills

Belmont Hills is a planned community near Fayetteville NC. The masterplan creates 186 residential lots, 2.65 miles of streets, and 3 acres of parks, all connected through a system of sidewalks and nature trails. We prepared conceptual diagrams to assist in selecting a preferred alternative, then finalized the selected layout as a final masterplan drawing.

Omega VIII Investment
Design Team
Jesse Turner, Landscape Architect
Site and Utility Design, PA, Engineer

Zoetis Courtyard

Zoetis employees enjoy informal gathering places and spaces where they can have small relaxed meetings. We worked with Philips Architecture to visualize changes to an existing courtyard that would re-use existing materials, provide contemporary comfortable furnishings, and provide for ADA requirements.

Montessori School of Winston-Salem Masterplan

We are working with the Montessori School of Winston Salem on the revision and implementation of their masterplan. In 2013, we worked with the school to re-organize the pedestrian and vehicular circulation system. Stop bars, signage, pavement marking, and crosswalks were installed to provide environmental ques to parents as they bring their children to school. Parking areas were re-striped to provide additional spaces and create a safe walkway from the parking lot to the school. According to Jon Churn, Head of School, the new circulation pattern is much safer and easier to manage. We also worked with the school to visualize a new entry experience that provides a sense of arrival that embraces the community.

Rose Pointe

Rose Pointe is a new development planned just outside of Fayetteville, NC. The community features large homes on partially wooded lots, streets with sidewalks and shade trees, walking trails, and a welcoming entrance. We worked with the developer to design the community, entrance, and create visualizations for prospective investors.

Follow the Child Montessori School

Follow the Child Montessori School has been in operation since 2001 and started as a parent-driven venture. Jesse Turner worked as the lead site designer for the outdoor play areas while Design Coordinator at The Natural Learning Initiative, as part of the school's expansion to a new campus. Working as a team along with Philips Architecture and Sepi Engineering, Jesse provided valuable and unique insight on the spatial needs of children. He led stakeholder meetings with teachers and staff, prepared plans, and advised the school on budgeting for initial construction. 

After his time at NLI ended, Jesse continued to work with the school. Lift[ED] created construction drawings and advised volunteers, led by Jeremy Hauch of Hauch Design

Fish Family Play Area

Fish Family Play Area is on the edge of downtown Houston, TX. A part of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership's larger vision to restore the banks of the Bayou, this park creates opportunities for the youngest park visitors to play. The park design, led by SWA Group, provides nature play opportunities for young children and care providers in a safe contained environment. Nearby, the larger landscape of the bayou is waiting for these young visitors to begin exploring as they gain more independent movement as young adults. Jesse Turner, as Design Coordinator for the Natural Learning Initiative, worked closely with SWA Group on the design and specification of materials for the park. His expertise in planning and designing public spaces for children and families was critical in the development of this detailed park.

Down East Discovery Park

The Down East Discovery Park is a multi-use space that serves as a early childhood outdoor learning environment demonstration site and a community gathering space. Owned by the Down East Partnership for Children, the park is frequently used for events that support their work with local schools that focus on early childhood education. Jesse Turner, while Design Coordinator at The Natural Learning Initiative, worked with the DEPC team to develop the design program and prepare the schematic design for the park.