Hello. I have currently been presented with an opportunity to start an educational retreat center in Northwest Illinois. The main infrastructure is towards the west edge of 105 acres. There is roughly a 150 foot difference in elevation, so you could imagine the slopes being relatively steep. There is roughly 60-65 acres of woodland (primarily black walnut, aspen, and oak) and roughly 40-45 of open land. Unfortunately, most of the open land (10-20% slope) has been plowed and used for soy production for the past couple of years. As it sits now it is bare with about 3 feet of snow on top of it. It is my intention to put an end to that nonsense, but could use more knowledge before I implement major earthworks. It was once told to me that too many people these days are drunk off of the swale cool aid and that it shouldn't be used for more than 3-5% slope. So then I thought about implementing terraces in certain places for water harvesting. I have an idea of what I'd like to do but could use the help of other opinions. Attached are two images of the property with contour lines of 25' and my ideas for the different zones.
The slopes have been prone to erosion problems and am thinking of implementing agroforestry and silvopasture methods. I am certain that there needs to be systems put in place to slow down that water and sediment flow. I have taken an Applied Watershed Restoration and Erosion Control workshop in the past with Craig Sponholtz of Dryland Solutions, Inc. and he introduced me to various techniques to help spread the water along landscapes.
Thanks Grant and everyone else for any advice you can give.
This appears to be a phenomenal opportunity. Agroforestry options abound on a site like this, and before I can provide any help, resources, or advice on this I have two questions.
1) What sort of educational retreat center? Ages, abilities, backgrounds? GOALS? (yours and students) Are retreaters hanging out? Recovering from work? Recovering from addiction? Riding horses? Being served 3-course meals?
2) Do you own this land and/or have a long term lease or are would you be an employee of owning entity? - Sorry if that's personal, but it's the crux of just about everything
Thanks for responding. Not too personal. We have a meeting with the land owners on Monday to pitch them our business plan/ future plans of the land. It is our intention to lease the land as the non-profit, that I would be an employee of. We plan on spending the first year finding our board members in the community, and continuing our education. After a couple of years of testing the waters (figuratively and literally) we'd start talking about transfer of ownership. I'm only going to implement longer term systems (earthworks, agroforestry), if I know that this will be a long term project that I work on for the next decade or more.
Our main vision is to teach people ways they can connect with themselves, their communities, and the environment through workshops, retreats, and events. Be it a yoga retreat, a PDC, bird language workshop, wilderness skills, etc. We're looking to have programming for all ages. There are still lots of things that my partner and I need to discuss in terms of programming. And yes meals will be included for most events, but most of the time not 3-course meals. Since I grew up in Chicago and experienced a bit of what lower class living is like, I have an urge to give back to that community and set up a youth program for city kids to come out and learn. There are currently 4 horses on the property that live along the entrance road, not sure if we'll be having visitors do much riding.
I hope this helps.
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Location: Iowa City, Iowa Zone 5
posted 4 years ago
What a wonderful challenge!
You're obviously capable of tackling a challenge like this, or Steve-Jobs-1979-the-whole-world-is-at-my-phenomenal-fingertips-just-watch-how-I-change-the-world-naive. (both good things)
Sounds like you have a working decision framework in place. Once you get through all the necessary steps (which we'll review for the spectators)
1)Start a nonprofit in IL
2) Fill out a connected and capable board of awesome people
3)Raise multiyear funding for Nonprofit ($1M+)
4) Secure multiyear lease and/or option to purchase agreement with landowner (and add them to your board)
6) Agroforestry improvements (HUGE FUNDING AVAILABLE FOR THESE...NRCS SWCD etc)
Your Board should have: (Attorney, Contractor/RE Developer, Philanthropist w/fundraising experience, successful director of a comparable education outfit, local politician of note, Educators)
Jacob: According to Geoff Lawton, any land with 18 degree slope or less is eligible for swales. the 3-5 % seems to apply to the slope within the swale (on the bottom) and the number quoted is normally to not slope the bottom of the swale more than 1-2%. the idea that the land should only have 3-5% slope does not really make sense since the purpose of a swale is to hold water that is flowing perpendicular to contour BUT to maintain it in the swale for as long as possible.
To do this, the more slope of the natural land the faster the water would run downhill. At 18-20 degree slope, a land is GREAT for damming and allowing water to flow downhill so that is not a problem. NOW.. once you introduce swales the bottom of the swale should be as level as possible so that the water is held and soaks into the swale mound. The exceptions depends on what you need to accomplish in addition to soaking water into a mound. If you want more water to move deeper into the swale you can slope the bottom of the swale about 1-2%. If you want to hold water longer as a sort of quasi canal, you would tilt back toward the backcut at the same %. This would lengthen the time the water was in the bottom of the swale and is a great idea for areas that are a bit more arid.
For land over 20 degree of slope, you could terrace but that is very expensive and there would still be a significant chance of erosion. Geoff seems not to be that big a fan of terracing though without a doubt Sepp Holzer uses it to great effect. I think the reason is the cost and the tendency for many to attempt terraces and the chance of failure is greater. Failure would result in destabilization of the slope, possible mudslides and extensive erosion. One good use for steeply sloped land are dams that can bridge from ridge to ridge then swale the areas beneath the dam. The swales can be planted with legumes initially then larger trees, fruit trees and some perrenial herbs.
If you do choose to terrace, be sure to have a plan to immediately stabilize the terraced area and determine how you will bring water, equipment and supplies to the area (access) Terracing is probably the grand daddy of earthworks in that it involves not only recontouring significant parts of land but also a lot of time and immediate replanting with nitrogen fixing AND soil holding root systems.
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