Academy Grad Wins American Society of Landscape Architects' Student Honor Award

Eric Arneson’s design reimagines the Healdsburg riverfront as a visitor-friendly, natural place of beauty


The Bendway Towers have become the symbol of the park and provide a visual link to the town. Overhead conveyors have been repurposed as tree walks immersing visitors into a California woodland with panoramic views of the site and beyond. Photo by Eric Arneson.

In the past decade, Healdsburg has become one of Wine Country’s most popular destinations. With its charming plaza rimmed with fine restaurants, tasting rooms, shops and stylish hotels, the revitalized downtown has plenty to offer visitors and locals. But according to Academy of Art University graduate Eric Arneson, who grew up in Healdsburg, one of his hometown’s most precious resources is being squandered: the Russian River.

“When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time on the river with my family,” he explained. “But one of the problems with getting there is that public access is very limited. In most areas, you have to trespass through private property. Sixty percent of the town’s riverfront is occupied by a gravel mining plant.” 

Before industrial businesses took over the area, people gathered there to enjoy the river and annual events like the Healdsburg Water Carnival. Today, mounds of gravel, towering steel-framed conveyor belts and gravel pits that are prone to flooding dominate the 100-acre stretch of riverfront known as the Healdsburg Bendway. In addition to being unattractive, excavating and storing the gravel has caused a variety of damage to the environment, such as destabilizing native flora and allowing invasive reeds to overrun the riparian zone. 

But Arneson hopes to change that. While he was a student at the Academy’s School of Landscape Architecture, he developed a practical and sustainable plan to restore Healdsburg’s riverfront and transform it into an easily accessible, multi-use park. 

“As a designer, that’s what my eye always goes to—I see a problem and try to figure out how I can solve it,” said Arneson. “I got interested in landscape architecture when I realized I could create outdoor spaces in natural environments that change over time. They’re not just static things—they’re living and affected by people. It’s like designing in a fourth dimension.”

Called Bendway Park, Arneson’s design fixes what he calls “the broken link” between his community and the Russian River, turning it into an appealing destination that will support economic growth. The project also ties in with current goals outlined in the Healdsburg 2030 General Plan to redevelop the gravel-mining site. 

Arneson incorporated the facility’s existing industrial elements into his design. The conveyor belt system, for example, would be repurposed into overhead walkways that weave through native trees and provide views of the river. 


Eric Arneson. Photo courtesy of Eric Arneson.

Warehouses would serve as space for restaurants, wine tasting and offices. Other features include an elevated, flood-proof pedestrian path, steps leading to the river and a campground.

Arneson’s plans for Bendway Park earned him a 2016 Student Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). “Winning the award was a nice surprise,” said Arneson. “I put a lot of work into tailoring my project to what the judges look for and trying to make it marketable.”

His design was one of 22 winning entries selected from 271 submissions representing 71 schools. The prestigious awards recognize the best landscape architecture students in the U.S. and around the world. Arneson and the other winners will receive their awards at the ASLA Annual Meeting and Expo in New Orleans on Monday, October 24.


Meetings with local community members and landscape architects provided crucial insight into the needs and opinions of the people that will be using this site. It is clear that people want a strong connection between the town and the river. Photo by Eric Arneson.

Arneson credits School of Landscape Architecture Director Heather Clendenin for motivating him to enroll at the Academy and helping him win the award. “The landscape architecture program was brand new when I first met with Heather,” he said. “She was extremely passionate and a great teacher. There were only a couple of other students at the time, so I got to work closely with her, which was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m very happy I chose the Academy.”

Clendenin was equally impressed with Arneson. She noticed his drive and determination from his early days as a student.

“Eric is the epitome of what [the Academy] is all about,” she stated. “If you have the passion, the commitment, and are willing to put in good old-fashioned hard work, you can achieve success. He took advantage of every opportunity we offered in terms of our state of the art technology, innovative classes, and of course, our great faculty. It was clear that he paid attention to the world around him. It was also clear that he truly cared about making a meaningful contribution to it. His Healdsburg project is a perfect example.”


In this proposal the massive existing gravel piles have been removed and the site sculpted to create a year round walkable space surrounded by a mosaic of thriving native habitats. Photo by Eric Arneson.

Since graduating, Arneson has been busy making headway in his career. He is working at the landscape architecture firm of another valued Academy instructor, Antonia Bava. 

“I’m doing lots of everything, which is fun” he said. “Eventually, I want to have my own company, so learning all aspects of the business from someone with 30 years of experience has been great.”



Photo captions courtesy of ASLA.