Hulunbuir Prairie, with a vast grassland of 100,000 square kilometers, is the birthplace of the ancient nomadic people in northern China. The grassland riverway wandering across the flat landform due to seasonal rainfall, winter waters and ice build-up. The river provides water and sediments for promoting the succession of grassland biodiversity. Therefore, it is called "Grassland Wandering River". In recent years, the fragile ecology of " Grassland Wandering River" has been damaged, accelerating the desertification of the whole Hulunbuir Prairie.
Yimin River, as a "Grassland Wandering River", has the typical characteristics of a changeable waterway, with extensive floodplains, fragile soil and restricted vegetation. Yimin river has gradually transformed from a meandering river to an urban river in the past few decades. In order to meet the flood discharge safety regulation, the riverway of Yimin river has been straightened and channelized during the new town expansion. This has significantly influenced the original river ecology, and also brought difficulties to the uses of the residents along the river.
Through restoration of the natural riverway, reconstruction of the floodplain, and the establishment of riverside leisure activities, the park is committed to restoring a resilient urban river, realizing the vision of New Grassland River with nature, vitality, and storytelling. After the park has been opened, this project has become an exemplary model for river restoration in Inner Mongolia grassland region.
The natural riverway has been channelized in order to meet the flood safety regulation, which damaged the natural vegetation in the floodplain. The landscape team initiated a comprehensive strategy of recovering the original riverway and creating an extra lagoon, to meet the seasonal flood discharge demand.
When recovering the river, the channelized riverway and bare floodplain have been the main challenges we confronted. The design team devoted to soften and afforest the revetment, which successfully achieved the conservation of river water and natural vegetation. With the “soft” river embankment, we restored the wetland in the river by using the existing sediments and islands, ensuring water cleaning, and also playing a positive role in slowing down the flood speed.
Floodplain refers to the area where the flood overflows when seasonal raining storms come. In the park, the floodplain covers an area extending 500-800 meters. Although the flood rarely occurs in the past years, the floodplain has been remained bare open. Therefore, how to achieve ecological restoration, as well as providing reasonable leisure use for the riverside community people, has been particularly vital for the park.
The first step is to clean and fertile soil in the floodplain. In some area, we have to use the river dredging dirt to replace the existing soil, to ensure successful revegetation. There are still some poplars and willows on the site, which have been conserved and matched with a palette of local plants to establish characteristic planting communities along the river.
After the vegetation has been recoved, a six-meter walkway along the river was established for exercises of the riverside residents. The pavement brick was particularly selected from the local materials, designed for enduring long time flood soaking. Along the walkway, a variety of informal outdoor places like sports field, leisure lawn, amphitheater, playground, and bird watching platforms are lined up, providing an opportunity for the riverside people to enjoy the river.
In the river turning area, a lagoon of 7 hectares has been created, to enhance the flood discharge capacity in flood season. Meanwhile, After the vegetation has been restored, the lagoon area has become a popular destination for passive leisure activities like bird watching, meditating, fishing, and photographing.
The green belt space above the levee is an urban park area that will meet the citizens and tourists’ intense sightseeing and recreational needs. Therefore, the levee park will have a distinctive botanic area with a collection of the local plantings. Meanwhile, cultural plazas, iconic viewing platforms and the service building have been designed as feature elements in the park.
The local plants, selected from the Mongolia forest, not only attract visitors to experience the colorful view in all seasons, but also greatly reduce the strong seasonal wind on the levee. Along the botanic belt, a couple of cantilevered lookouts are established along the embankment, providing a symbolic viewing deck for enjoying the grand landscape of the wandering waterflow, lush wetland. and vivid floodplain.
Along the levee park belt, two cultural theme plazas are created to celebrate the rich Mongolian and local minority culture, which provide great leisure and educational opportunities for the visits. Every summer, this area has become one of the great attractions in the city. Alongside the plaza, a sustainable service building covered with grass is the dominant element, imitating from the natural mounds in the grassland. This earth covered building, designed to be energy efficiency due to the long cold winter, provides visitors with park information and necessary shopping and dining services.
Looking out from the viewing deck on the top of the earth covered service building, we see two different landscapes. At the riverside, Yimin river wanders through the grand green floodplain, which realized the vision of building a resilient river, meeting both the ecological restoration and recreational needs. At the city side, the new communities along the park have been developed rapidly, leads to the new town booming. Yimin Waterfront Park has successfully achieved the goals of ecology, economy and society for the city since it was opened at 2018.