Landscape architects plan and design land areas for parks, recreational facilities, highways, airports, and other properties. Among the highest honor a landscape architect can receive is to be a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects Council of Fellows. In 2012 that honor came to Robin Lee Gyorgyfalvy, Forest Scenic Byways Program leader and landscape architect for the Deschutes National Forest in Oregon.
Holding both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in landscape architecture, Gyorgyfalvy’s has developed an innovative policy for communities adjacent to federal properties – scenic byways and rivers, national monuments, wilderness, and conservation areas.
What is the public perception of your job and what is the reality?
The public perception of a landscape architect is someone who does a design for a yard and the reality is the very wide spectrum it encompasses: regional, community and transportation planning; site design at multiple scales for multiple uses; comprehensive master planning for very large public spaces (scenic byways, monuments, national parks, conservation areas); visual analysis for scenic viewsheds; corridor management planning; and design of interpretive trails, viewpoints, and signs.
What do you see, hear or feel when you go to work?
When I go to work, I see pine tree forests, a river running through the heart of town, neighborhoods, views to mountains, mostly blue skies, abundant birdlife, and many bikers and hikers. Bend, Oregon is a community of about 80,000 and there are mostly local roads on the way to work. It's fairly quiet and I feel excited about Bend's future and the supportive role the forest has in sustaining this attractive and livable community.
What makes you get up in the morning and go to work?
I have lots of ideas and strategies for scenic byways and other projects through environmental design and conservation education that I want to make happen so I'm very motivated to see what I can accomplish each day.
What was the happiest day of your professional life?
When I became a licensed landscape architect, I felt that anything was possible. Then, it all seemed to come true when I was elected to the Council of Fellows this past year.
Being recognized by my peers is the highest honor there is. I’m glad to see that my efforts in shaping public policy have impacted how landscape architects shape public lands, one of our largest resources for healthy habitat, respectful recreation and cultural connection.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? What were your favorite books, movies, movie stars, sports heroes, singers during your childhood?
I wanted to be a pearl diver, a cartoon artist, and a storybook writer. I loved to hear ghost stories from my uncle on Kauai and also Hawaiian legends about plants and places by the Hawaiian elders. I loved books about animals who talked including Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh, and Charlotte's Web. Duke Kahanamoku, Gerry Lopez and Rella Sunn were my surf heroes in Hawaii. Favorite singers were Kui Lee, Peter Moon, the Cazimero Brothers, and Gabby Pahinui, all of Hawaii.
What one word would you use to describe yourself and why?
Connector. I like making connections between things that would seem to work better together.
What do you like most about your job?
I love the opportunity for creativity in my job and involving the community as partners as well as bringing economic vitality to our region through the scenic byways program.
Tell me about two memorable projects. To what do you attribute the success?
The first memorable project is the Ray Atkeson Memorial Interpretive Trail at Sparks Lake. Ray Atkeson was the nation's only photographer laureate. He preserved many of Oregon's iconic landscapes through his photographs. The project was a huge success and serves as a model partnership in the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Region. The larger community of Oregon was involved in volunteering to build trails and contributing to make it happen. It has become a mecca for those visiting Bend and central Oregon. Many people move to Bend after visiting here as well as several of the other lakes but Sparks Lake is probably photographed the most. It was a success because it entirely involved the community and was a memorial to a person who dedicated his entire life to preserving Oregon's memorable landscapes. I was very inspired and knew I had a unique opportunity to work with some dedicated partners to make this unusual project happen. It was one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ projects requiring a lot of ingenuity and perseverance.
The second memorable project was the Trail of Molten Land at Lava Lands Visitor Center. Earlier, as Director of Newberry National Volcanic Monument, I was involved in the conceptual design phase for a new accessible trail that would allow all visitors to be on top of a lava flow. The new trail is a graceful entry through a grove of shaded ponderosa pine trees that follows the edge of a thick lava field before climbing to the top of the lava flow and revealing a spectacular view of the Cascade Range. The new layout of this interpretive trail really gives visitors a physical understanding of the depth of the lava flow they are standing on.
What haven’t you done that you wish you would have?
One of the best times I ever had was traveling to Tahiti to play in a women’s soccer tournament with my best friends from Hawaii. We wish we would have returned there together again.
Editor’s note: In December 2012, Gyorgyfalvy traveled to China to make a presentation at an international conference on the development of national forest parks. She discussed conservation education through environmental design, using examples from the work she does on scenic byways, national monuments, and wild and scenic rivers.
The Faces of the Forest is a project of the U.S. Forest Service Office of Communication to showcase the people, places and professions within our agency, which is responsible for 193 million acres of forests and grasslands in 44 states and territories. If you know someone you would like to have profiled here, send an email with the person's name, work location and a bit about to Faces of the Forest.