Science and education center created 40 years ago

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When the Great Smoky Mountains National Park developed a general management plan 40 years ago in 1982, the concept of a skeleton of a new laboratory was included. This lab would serve the needs of a relatively small group of scientists and researchers then working in the historic buildings of the Voorheis Estate, located on Cherokee Orchard Road, just off the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, southeast of downtown. city ​​of Gatlinburg.

The concept was fleshed out over the next decade, and with the creation of the Biodiversity Inventory of All Taxa in 1998 and the associated growth in community science and the efforts of outside researchers, it was determined that the laboratory had to be more than just offices. It should include space for natural history collections, science education programs, and a variety of community science events.

To achieve the coveted Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, the building had to meet a variety of sustainable design and construction goals.

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“The planning and design of the Twin Creeks Science and Education Center followed a typical National Park Service process,” said Dianne Flaugh, one of the many landscape architects who worked on the project. “It was a process that involved the contribution of a wide range of NPS staff, from management to those who would work in the building on a daily basis, to those who would support the ongoing maintenance and operation of the building. “

In addition to a value analysis and approval from its Design Advisory Board, the NPS requires that newly constructed buildings achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, which means the building had to meet to a variety of sustainable design and construction goals. The actual design process was handled by the architectural staff of the NPS Southeast Regional Office (SERO), who typically work with a number of competing architectural and engineering firms for projects. The company ultimately chosen to design Twin Creeks was Lord Aeck Sargent (LAS).

Echoing the gable roofs of the neighboring estate of Voorheis, the structure is crowned by a series of gable roofs.  The central section of the building is an open space for work, education, or events, with smaller offices and more specialized workspaces to either side.

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“Once LAS was selected as the design company, a team of employees from that company, SERO, and the park met frequently to discuss and flesh out the needs of the various construction functions on offer and the relationships between these. duties, as well as forecast staff needs, ”said Flaugh, who was the park’s cultural resource program manager when she retired in 2018.“ These needs also had to be factored into the funds available. Often at these meetings, the lead architect would remind the team, “If you have money for a 10 pound bag of potatoes, you can only put 10 pounds in the bag. “

Twin Creeks state-of-the-art science and education center was finally completed in 2007, its design reflecting how the teams prioritized the various desired functions and assessed the historical context of the site. The central section of the building is an open space for work, education, or events, with smaller offices and more specialized workspaces to either side. Echoing the gable roofs of the Voorheis estate, the structure is crowned by a series of gable roofs, and its masonry matches the foundations of the estate’s buildings and the site’s historic fieldstone walls.

National Park Service employees, like entomologist Becky Nichols, say they thrive at Twin Creeks because they strive to protect the park's resources with a large network of staff, interns, volunteers and like-minded researchers.

Now a visionary laboratory for park scientists and researchers, the Twin Creeks Science and Education Center houses the park’s natural history collections, provides workspace for branches of the NPS including inventory and monitoring, management of vegetation and air quality, and provides event space for community scientists, park partners, and more. NPS employees who share this unusual space say they thrive here because they strive to protect the park’s resources with a large network of like-minded people – including staff, interns, volunteers and cooperating researchers.

“We all share the same goal: to better understand and protect what lives here,” said park entomologist Becky Nichols.

At the start of the pandemic, Twin Creeks staff, as well as most Smokies employees, were working from home – with the exception of one air quality technician who maintained critical and essential air monitoring operations. air quality.

Twin Creeks Long-Term Monitoring Program for Aquatic Entomology measures insect diversity and stream quality to collect data as part of the vital signs monitoring program, which is necessary to understand the health of park resources.

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“Inventory and surveillance staff kept in touch via frequent video calls, and like everyone else in the country, we have adapted to holding meetings remotely,” Nichols said. “As the field season approached, he was initially undecided if we could do our normal research with interns and seasonal workers. But, after taking many safety precautions and changing protocols, it was decided that the field season could continue. “

From the end of May 2020, the summer teams arrived and by the end of the fall all field units were able to complete their normal data collection without incident. During the winter months, staff worked from home or continued to work onsite at Twin Creeks, especially if they needed access to laboratories, microscopes and the natural history collection.

The state-of-the-art Twin Creeks Science and Education Center was completed in 2007, its masonry matching the foundations of neighboring Voorheis Estate buildings and the historic field stone walls of the site.  This marker on a stone near the building thanks those whose support brought the installation from concept to reality.

In 2021, security remained a primary concern and a hybrid model was adopted in which some worked from home and others returned to the office.

“Despite the challenges, we have remained productive,” said Nichols, whose long-term monitoring program for aquatic entomology has measured insect diversity and stream quality in the park since the early years. 1990. Detailed annual data collection as part of the vital signs monitoring program is necessary to understand the health of the park’s resources.

“We log data every year, which feeds into the Vital Signs program, and we look at long-term trends,” Nichols said. “Are things stable? Are they improving or decreasing? This information shows us where to target our research efforts. Through research, we can better understand what could threaten our resources, and having baseline data allows us to better protect those resources. “

Francoise Figart

This story is an edited excerpt from a much longer article by Frances Figart, Aaron Searcy and Elise Anderson that appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of “Smokies Life” magazine. Frances Figart is the Creative Services Director of the 29,000-member Great Smoky Mountains Association, a non-profit educational partner of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Learn more about SmokiesInformation.org and contact the author at [email protected]

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