LISTEN: Ancient fix a timeless solution: ASU intern to help develop irrigation plans in Camp Verde
What does the Town of Camp Verde have in common with an ancient river city in China?
Yunpei “Rainia” Zhang, an intern from Arizona State University studying landscape design, is hoping to find that out as she develops irrigation landscape plans for the Parsons Riverfront Preserve in Camp Verde.
She hopes to utilize some of the same solutions used in her hometown, Dujiangyan, a city located in the Sichuan province of China. The city is home to the Dujiangyan Irrigation System, the oldest surviving water-management system in the world. The system was constructed in 256 B.C. as an irrigation flood control project. Today, Dujiangyan is a major tourist attraction in China.
Zhang said the ancient levee in Dujiangyan was constructed from woven bamboo baskets filled with stones.
“Here, I find some of the dry tree and we could use that tree or wood to make the basket,” she said.
John Parsons, a longtime Verde River advocate and where the Parsons Preserve gets its name, said the park is not planned to be heavily developed, thus making the methods Zhang is suggesting ideal.
“Roughly 2,300 years ago when the Dujiangyan project began, humans were, by necessity, compelled to work with the forces of nature,” he said. “The brute force technology that became so widespread in the past 100-plus years of ‘river taming’ did not exist. Parsons Preserve is not planned to be heavily developed so whatever primitive, ancient methods can be brought to bear will enhance the experience of interacting with this property. It is exciting for me, personally, to know that Rainia has these ancient engineering methods ingrained into her family history in ways that transcend book learning from educational institutions.”
Zhang said one of the challenges that comes with the project is that Camp Verde is at a higher elevation than her hometown, but she hopes to find a way to use that to her advantage.
Another challenge, said Camp Verde Economic Development Director Steve Ayers, is that Camp Verde doesn’t experience the level of flooding Zhang’s hometown does.
“Where they may have more flooding in their park properties is the nature of how that park property works, we would only have occasional flooding down here,” he said. “So that will be a design issue. And I think another one of the issues is … a more delicate environmental balance that’s taking place on the Verde than maybe what you would have on a larger river.”
Ayers said the town is fortunate in having valuable resources at its disposal.
“Friends of the Verde River and others who are very familiar with the biological side of things down there," said Ayers.
Home away from home
Although far away from home, Zhang said there are things about Camp Verde that remind her of Dujiangyan.
“I like it here actually because there’s a lot of natural things around me,” she said. “It makes me feel like my hometown. People out here are so nice.”
Zhang also said that like Camp Verde, Dujiangyan is a city with a rich history, although significantly older than Camp Verde’s.
Ayers said the town’s partnership with Zhang began while he was speaking to ASU students about some of the various projects happening in Camp Verde.
“Rainia was the first one to come up at the session and say that she wanted to do an emphasis on landscape design as part of her degree program,” he said.
Zhang said she planned to take a semester off before returning to ASU for graduate school. She wanted to know if the Town of Camp Verde would offer her an internship. That’s how it all began.
Ayers said he hopes to have a set of drawings from Zhang before she leaves in June. He hopes Parsons Riverfront Preserve will be finished in the next 18 months.
In a public Facebook post, Parsons said that prior to meeting with Zhang, he wrote a list of the things he most wanted to see at the preserve.
“Lo and behold, I described essentially what she had described. We were all very surprised and pleased,” he said. “I am so deeply honored that Rainia is doing the design work for Parsons Preserve. I can hardly believe it. What are the chances that someone of her skill and insight would find and take on this project?”
Parsons said he is mostly looking forward to providing positive reinforcement.
Zhang will also be mentored by Chris McPhail, or as Ayers likes to call her “Camp Verde’s secret weapon.”
McPhail is a licensed landscape architect and volunteers her time to the town.
“Rainia was such a wonderful find and so enthusiastic,” McPhail said. “It’s really exciting because we have an opportunity to work on a project from its conception. So Rainia has the opportunity to work on how the design process will evolve.”
Camp Verde interns
Zhang isn’t Camp Verde’s only intern, Ayers said.
“We also have a student from ASU who is doing our GIS work in the community development department,” he said. “We have another one who is looking to do some emergency preparedness planning with our risk management department. We have another student who wants to come up here next year and get involved with our trail planning.”
Ayers said the town has been trying to emphasize internships as a way to get a fresh set of eyes on various projects.
“We get a different mindset when we go to do planning,” he said.
Ayers said even he realizes interns won’t stay forever, the idea is to bring a younger mindset and thought process into the town.
“I have been looking at Parsons park for instance for four years and I had some general ideas of what we could do over there,” he said. “Then Rainia shows up and completely kind of turns it on end.”