Emeritus Spotlight: Gordon Bradley

There was a time, a little more than 40 years ago, when Professor Emeritus Gordon Bradley had to choose between taking a research job in Tennessee or accepting a faculty position at the University of Washington. It was a stark choice—and not an easy one, either.

He had flown down to Knoxville, Tenn., to interview for a position with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), where he would have been involved in their land-use impacts program. Around the same time, he’d also applied for a recreation planning faculty position at the College of Forest Resources. So while weighing an offer from the TVA, he headed up to Seattle to explore the possibility of an academic career. “I gave [UW] an interview and went back home, and the chair of the department called me up the next day to offer me the job,” says Bradley. “I had to think about it for a little while, because the people in Tennessee were so nice. But I thought, ‘I’ll try UW for a couple years.’”

Bradley with his wife Jackie in the Anderson Hall courtyard in 1974. The two met as undergrads at Cal Poly.

Bradley with his wife Jackie in the Anderson Hall courtyard in 1974. The two met as undergrads at Cal Poly.

A couple turned into more than 40, and Bradley—who retired at the end of 2014—has begun tying up the many threads of a long university life. “Some people might say, ‘You’ve had this one 42-year career,’” he says. “But if you take an academic career seriously, you can actually reinvent yourself over and over again. You can get a mix of things from about four or five different careers, and you don’t have to leave town.”

For Bradley, that mix has been unusually varied. In his four-plus decades on the faculty, he never shied away from opportunities to get involved and contribute to the SEFS community. He taught dozens of courses, from recreation and forest planning to urban forestry, and held adjunct positions with the Department of Urban Design and Planning and the Department of Landscape Architecture. He served on countless committees, including multiple turns organizing the school’s annual strategic planning retreat, and published scores of publications. He also held a number of leadership positions, including several years as faculty chair and associate dean of academic affairs, and his drawing of Anderson Hall now adorns all sorts of cards and documents as our unofficial seal.

Even now—between golf trips and more time with his family—he’s back at the helm of one more planning committee for the 2015 retreat. Yet the pace has definitely slowed a little, giving him more time to reflect on the bookends of his long, industrious tenure here.

“It seems like a rather trite comment,” he says, “but where did the time go? Well, if you hang around long enough, the time will go.”

Planning Ahead
Bradley was born in Bellingham, Wash., and he “fell down the West Coast” from there. First, his family moved to Seattle for a couple years, and then continued south to Sacramento when he was 7 years old. That’s where he went to high school, and Bradley says he didn’t exactly graduate with a clear vision of his future. “I had an occasion to look at my yearbook a while back, and where they ask you about your ambition, I just put ‘undecided.’”

After he enrolled at Sacramento State College (now California State University – Sacramento), though, some of his interests started to crystallize. “I was using those first two years to explore and take your general distributions classes,” he says, “and I knew I had an interest in agriculture, forestry, business and art. Somehow, as I was exploring different fields, landscape architecture seemed to capture a lot of that stuff. It clearly had an environmental aspect like forestry; the art aspect in design; and business if you were going to make it work.”

He transferred to the landscape architecture program at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in Pomona after his second year. The downside was that the technical nature of all programs at Cal Poly required a four-year sequence of courses. So he basically had to start over at year one of the program, knowing he would need another four years from there to complete the requirements of a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture.

Bradley's iconic drawing of Anderson Hall for the centennial of the College of Forest Resources in 2007.

Bradley’s iconic drawing of Anderson Hall, rather butchered here in web translation, for the centennial of the College of Forest Resources in 2007.

The upside of taking six years to finish the degree, however, was that he had time to get involved in a number of extracurricular activities, from spending time in a pottery studio—as it happens, with Robert Zappa, the brother of Frank Zappa—to getting active in the student government at Cal Poly.

In 1967, in fact, he got elected as vice-president of the Associated Students, Inc., a position that meant he was chair of the student senate. Bradley had been a student senator the year before, and he realized that most of the students didn’t have a clear picture of how the legislative process worked. So in a move that would surprise few of his later colleagues, Bradley partnered with a friend from his landscape architecture program to build a graphic that explained the legislative world, from introducing bills to votes and other procedural motions.

Scaling Up
After earning his bachelor’s in 1969, Bradley headed to Berkeley to work toward a master’s in landscape architecture in environmental planning. His undergraduate program had focused heavily on project-level planning, and his graduate work expanded the scope to include more regional planning—looking at the natural world, as well as the social and political and administrative dimensions.

The timing of his arrival on campus was perfect. “The nice thing about that degree,” he says, “was I got there just at the time when a piece of legislation passed that created the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA), and my academic advisor was an advisor to that agency.”

Bradley secured a research assistantship in 1970 to help the TRPA develop a land-use plan in the basin. He helped build an extensive GIS database and assisted with overall plan development, including modeling a number of future scenarios. “I worked on that project for the whole two years until the plan was adopted,” he says. “It was a real-world, heavy-duty policy-planning experience.”

Bradley speaking at the SEFS Graduation Celebration in 2013.

After his student deferment ran out, Bradley got drafted and spent the Vietnam War era with an Army National Guard reserve unit in California and Washington until 1975.

The TRPA defined the planning area to address the hydro-physiological boundary of the lake rather than simply the political boundary of the water. By factoring in conditions and inputs through the broader lake watershed, the agency was able to address a far more comprehensive set of variables. “It was unique in the world to have an environmental plan that captured all of the problems that influenced the health of the lake,” says Bradley. “It was an incredible experience.”

Back to Seattle
Not long after earning his master’s in 1972, Bradley saw the advertisement for an assistant professor of resource planning at the College of Forest Resources. “At the time I came here, we had a major recreation program headed up by Professor Grant Sharp,” says Bradley. “He did the interpretation, and I was hired to do the planning. I helped him build the program, and we developed a whole series of classes, case studies and field trips. But we eventually had to close the program because university budget constraints and the student numbers were more than the two of us could handle.”

In those first few years on the faculty, some of Bradley’s favorite classes were the two-week field trips he led as part of “Introduction to Recreation and Conservation.” Some of those excursions took them all the way out through Yellowstone, the Tetons, Jackson Hole and Hell’s Canyon, while others didn’t require going more than a few miles out of the city. “In this part of the world, when you walk outside of the building, that basically is your lab and your classroom,” he says. “You don’t’ have to read or lecture about it; you can go out and look at it. Urban forestry, urban ecology, recreation, sustainable sites—it’s all out there. So we’d be traveling and visiting agencies and trying to discover the important issues in natural resource management, and also some of the employment opportunities and career paths. It was quite an enterprise.”

Within five years, Bradley had been promoted and awarded tenure. And though his MLA was the highest he could achieve in his field at the time, he recognized that he was one of only a few professors at the university who didn’t hold a Ph.D. So he decided to use his first opportunity for sabbatical to enroll at the University of Michigan to pursue his doctorate in urban and regional planning. “Nobody made me do it, but I wanted to remain competitive and expand my horizons,” he says.

He returned to campus after a year and a half in Michigan and then spent the next six years completing his research remotely from Seattle, eventually earning his Ph.D. in urban, technological and environmental planning in 1986. “So I came here with a master’s and then was teaching for five to six years, got tenure and then went and got a Ph.D.”

Bradley is still in touch with many of his former students, and especially some of the first he took on field trips in the late 1970s. “You hang around with these kids for two weeks, and there’s a bonding that goes on,” he says, and he’s still in touch with many of them (some of whom are now retired themselves).

Bradley is still in touch with many of his former students, and especially some of the first he took on field trips in the late 1970s. “You hang around with these kids for two weeks, and there’s a bonding that goes on,” he says.

Also, while his time on campus at Michigan was brief, his connections to his advisor, Professor Rachel Kaplan, and her many students continue to this day. In fact, a book that Kaplan co-edited, Fostering Reasonableness: Supportive Environments for Bringing out Our Best, was just published last month. It includes a chapter by Bradley and one of his former students, Laura Cooper, “Planning for Small Forest Landscapes: Facilitating the Connection between People and Nature,” as well as contributions from 20 other individuals who have collaborated together for many years.

Bradley was later promoted to full professor in 1991 and he went on to serve in a number of leadership roles, including as faculty chair from 2005 to 2009. “With a background in planning,” he says, “I always viewed administration, in many respects, as adaptive management. If you really enjoy planning, you realize that not everything is going to work with everybody. I always thought of it as kind of a bunch of little experiments to see what worked and what didn’t work. My interest was just trying to resource the faculty in a way that allowed them to do their job, whether that was workload, time or money—to the extent we had some money to spend. I didn’t want the administration to ever be a barrier or a burden.”

A Professor’s Life
It’s hard to put a period at the end of such a long, multifaceted life in academia. Bradley has had a chance to work on so many projects with so many partners, from city, county, state and federal agencies, to timber companies across the region, to nonprofits like Forterra and the Mountains to Sound Greenway. “This has been absolutely incredible, the opportunity afforded by the University of Washington,” he says. “A lot of people don’t have the chance to enjoy a career like this. There just isn’t a bad day.”

He looks at these projects as chapters, or mini-careers, each with a different focus and set of challenges. His research ‘careers’ have covered recreation and conservation planning, forest land-use issues (including a book about the urban-forest interface), and urban ecology and urban forestry (including a book about urban forest landscapes). He also spent 10 years looking at visual resource management on forest lands, and through everything he continued to teach and mentor students.

One of his most rewarding experiences was serving as principal investigator for the National Science Foundation-funded program in urban ecology. The Integrative Graduate Education Research and Training (IGERT) grant allowed Bradley and several colleagues, including SEFS Professors Clare Ryan and John Marzluff, to work and travel internationally with doctoral students to address pressing environmental issues.

Taking advantage of extra time in his schedule, Bradley recently spent a week golfing the Alabama Trail, a series of courses that Robert Trent Jones designed. “Great courses, excellent weather and a game about as good as I can play.”

Taking advantage of his lighter schedule, Bradley recently spent a week golfing the Alabama Trail, a series of courses that Robert Trent Jones designed. “Great courses, excellent weather and a game about as good as I can play.”

Missing those student interactions might be an especially tough adjustment. “That’s really the fun of teaching, the process of sharing discoveries,” he says. “I always liked that, whether it was the introductory classes or the graduate classes. You have a guaranteed supply of good students, and there’s a high energy level in terms of ideas, issues, personnel. It’s a stimulating kind of place.”

Now, aside from a couple consulting projects and helping a few graduate students wrap up their research, Bradley’s schedule definitely looks much more open—though his days are likely to be just as full. “The calendar is not empty,” he says.

He’s already taken a couple golf trips and has visits to Montana and Hawaii coming up this summer. He’s also spending more time with his family, including his daughter Autumn and two grandkids. “This afternoon, my granddaughter has an indoor soccer game, and I love to watch her. “I have [the grandkids] every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning. I fix them breakfast and then take them to school.”

It will take him a year or two to fully transition out of the university, and he’s now gradually packing up his office in Bloedel Hall (which his grandkids call the “treehouse”). But there’s more to it than that. After a lifetime of constant learning and professional evolution, Bradley doesn’t ever want to close the door on new adventures and pursuits. “Put your antenna up, keep your eyes open and your ears unplugged, and make sure you’re sensing your environment and what interests you,” he says.

One of his former students, Wendy Asplin, might have said it best when she encouraged him to sit back and watch the universe expand.

“I liked that,” says Bradley. “Watch the universe expand. I think it’s going to work out.”

Photo of Gordon and Jackie Bradley, and Anderson drawing © Gordon Bradley; all other photos © Karl Wirsing/SEFS.

Grad Student Spotlight: Laura Cooper

When Laura Cooper moved from Pittsburgh to Seattle about eight years ago, she was eager for a change of scenery—a better mix of city and nature, skyscrapers and sky. “I was looking for a city on the coast,” she says, “and I was attracted to the idea that in Seattle you could be on a boat and then go skiing later that same day.”

A few years after she arrived, though, the economy collapsed in 2008. Cooper had been working as architect for 13 years at that point, but she suddenly found herself out of work and seriously questioning her career future.

Laura Cooper

After 13 years as an architect and suddenly out of work, Laura Cooper started exploring a career change and options for graduate study–which led to a fortuitous visit with Professor Gordon Bradley at SEFS.

While unemployed and weighing a return to school, she started thinking about sustainability, urban planning and landscape architecture, and she was especially drawn to the interface between the built and natural environments. But when she started looking at schools for graduate study, she had a sense the design community wasn’t adequately grounded in ecology. She began hunting for a more interdisciplinary program where she could learn the basic concepts and language of ecology, yet also marry that background with her own experience and interest in planning.

While scouting the University of Washington (UW), one of the first people she met was Professor Gordon Bradley at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS). He outlined the social sciences element of the SEFS curriculum, that she could explore urban planning and also have the freedom to learn about ecosystem management.

The timing of her visit couldn’t have been better.

SEFS and Professor Bradley have a long-standing relationship and partnership with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR). And around the time Cooper was considering UW, Doug McLelland, assistant region manager for the South Puget Sound Region (and an alumnus of SEFS), had reached out to Bradley to see whether he had a graduate student who could coordinate a large-scale planning project. McClelland needed someone to facilitate the planning process for the new 53,000-acre Snoqualmie Corridor Recreation Planning Area, which stretches along Interstate 90 heading west from Seattle.

Bradley pitched the idea to Cooper, and she was sold.

It sounded like a perfect match. She’d get immersive training in sustainability planning, and also in the public planning process itself. She’d gain experience in ecosystem management and working with multiple state partners and agencies, as well as a citizen advisory committee. Plus, there was the added benefit of familiarity and contributing to a local project. “I’d be working on a landscape I already cared about,” she says.

Cooper soon enrolled as a graduate student with Bradley and began sizing up the scope of the work at hand.

The Snoqualmie Corridor Recreation Planning Area

A Planner’s Pot of Gold

The project involved creating a recreation management plan for DNR-managed lands in the Snoqualmie Corridor near North Bend, Issaquah and Snoqualmie that would guide how DNR manages recreation for the next 10 to 15 years. The planning area is situated in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and includes well-known destinations such as Mount Si, Mailbox Peak, the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Valley, Tiger Mountain and Rattlesnake Ridge (a few of Bradley’s previous graduate students had helped facilitate similar recreation plans in this area).

Because the DNR lands form part of a continuous landscape of public lands—including Taylor Mountain, Grand Ridge and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, among others—part of the goal was to look for opportunities to connect the landscapes together and improve access to local communities so that people wouldn’t always need to get into their car to get to the forest.

Planning in such an expansive landscape is challenging because it involves a number of different types of DNR-managed lands: working forests or state trust lands that provide revenue for schools, universities and other public institutions; natural resources conservation areas (NRCAs) that conserve scenic landscapes, outstanding examples of native ecosystems and habitat for threatened and endangered species; and small isolated blocks of rural forest lands surrounded by rural residences. All of these landscapes provide opportunities for recreation, and the plan needed to take these multiple goals and contexts into consideration.

Laura Cooper

The Middle Fork Valley, recently designated an NRCA, was one of the areas that needed a new recreation plan (also not a terrible place to be exploring!).

The DNR has fine-tuned a process for gathering citizen input and developing recreation plans, says Cooper, and she felt fortunate to have such a proven system already in place. They have recommendations and guidelines for all aspects of the planning process, including how to involve the public, how to conduct a meeting, and how to solicit constructive feedback and address sensitive subjects. They also draw on the strength of a dynamic internal staff of planners, foresters, naturalists, cartographers and scientists. At the same time, this project represented a massive new undertaking, and it all started with harnessing the ideas and buy-in of diverse communities along the corridor.

The process kicked off with a big public meeting at Snoqualmie Middle School back in February 2012. Cooper says there was tremendous energy in the room. After listening to a 30-minute presentation, attendees were able to visit different stations with maps of the various landscapes and ask questions and say what they would like to see—and then they could actually draw their ideas on the maps.

At the meeting, a group of invested residents and other interested parties filled out cards to be considered for a citizen planning committee. The DNR ended up selecting 17 members, who would then be dedicating more than a year of their time for monthly meetings. “That’s where the real planning happens,” says Cooper, and her role would be to help facilitate those meetings and keep the process moving, making sure everyone’s voice was heard and included, and basically hold all the pieces together.

Marching Orders

The process was perfectly timed with the seasons. Starting in March, the first few months of committee meetings were held indoors. Members learned about the planning area, DNR’s mission and different types of recreation, and studied suitability maps that identified sensitive areas based on biological, geological, soil and management criteria.

Laura Cooper

Cooper and her “big red truck,” which she rumbled all over the 53,000-acre corridor.

Some of the landscapes already had existing management plans that needed to be updated, while others needed new plans. The Middle Fork Snoqualmie block was recently designated an NRCA and needed a new management plan, and the Raging River State Forest was recently acquired and did not have any established trail systems in place—representing a tremendous opportunity to be part of the first team to develop a recreation plan for it.

All the background work was completed in time for a summer of field trips. In May, Cooper started scheduling field trips to explore the 53,000-acre planning area, and throughout that summer she organized roughly 23 excursions. “That was probably the most fun of all of it,” says Cooper, “and the best part is they gave me a big red truck to drive around, and the keys to all the logging roads.”

Cooper’s crews scoured the territory and imagined a range of possibilities: identifying views, finding connections and looking for areas that would be good for river access, picnicking and different types of recreation and experiences (such as environmental education, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking or equestrian paths). They found a little waterfall that had been written about by Harvey Manning, an environmental activist and author of many hiking guides. They even explored the site of an old abandoned logging town, finding remnants of saws, boilers, kitchen equipment and glass bottles.

After a summer of exploration, it was time for the team to sit down and start drafting proposals. Cooper had prepared a survey that was administered in August to gain further public input, and she incorporated those results into their field research. In September, the committee started brainstorming and drawing ideas on maps. In these proposals, says Cooper, they were blocking out areas for different recreational uses, identifying key connections and access points. After several iterations, working through a number of alternatives during the course of several planning meetings, the committee successfully closed out the year in December with a final preferred version, known as Concept F.

Laura Cooper

One of the great takeaways for Cooper–in addition to gaining invaluable experience with the planning process–was discovering incredible natural areas so close to Seattle.

In January, Cooper began wrapping up the entire process, taming and analyzing a beastly set of data and surveys, and enough maps to give a seasoned cartographer panic sweats. She emerged from the maelstrom with a detailed document and concept maps for the recreation plan, which she and McClelland are presenting back to the committee this month, and later to the public for final review and comment.

After that, implementation could start as early as this fall. Cooper is excited to see the concepts she and her committee put together take real shape in the coming years—to see trails get designed and built, and eventually see people out trekking the same paths she helped envision and blaze. One of the amazing takeaways for Cooper, after all, was getting to discover some incredibly beautiful natural areas within about 45 minutes from Seattle. They’re so easy to reach, and this recreation plan will soon open up new territory for countless others to enjoy and explore.

Another more immediate payoff after completing this plan, of course, is that Cooper will be wrapping up her Master’s Degree here at SEFS. She’s defending her thesis on Friday, June 7, so you can come out and see the fruits of her academic labors—on a different project, interviewing family forest owners about how they approach their land—in person at 10 a.m. in Anderson 22!

Photos © Laura Cooper.