Guest Column - September 2010
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The Best of Both Worlds
Incorporating Nature Into the Built Playground Environment

By Anne-Marie Spencer

A wonderful example of this model can be found at Lake Winnepesaukah Park.

Located in Rossville, Ga., the park features family rides, games and events, but until recently did not feature a playground area for children and their families. The facility used NatureGrounds to create a nature-themed playground with an emphasis on natural shade using existing trees. The structure is universally designed and utilizes inclined ramps and sensory-rich ground-level activities to facilitate play for people of all abilities. The playground maintains a natural feel, thanks in part to the use of recycled materials and its unique design, which emphasizes the park planning committee's desire for a playground that blended with the natural environment rather than standing apart from it. A natural stream flows along one edge, providing a tranquil refuge and opportunity for water play. The structure sits amongst and wraps around many existing historic trees. Its natural color palette, close proximity to the natural elements, and ample sitting areas create a calm yet exciting play environment that also promotes intergenerational play. It is also a symphony of sights, sounds and textures. Children on the highest play structure deck can survey the tree canopy from a more compliant perch, while still observing birds and squirrels in the branches. The beautiful old trees, which were all evaluated by an arborist for viability before the playground build, provide natural shade, whispering sounds and colorful patterns as the sun and breeze work together to paint a changing palette of texture and shadow over the surface of the structure. The overall feeling is one of cool enjoyment, making the playground one of the most popular destinations in the park.

In Springfield, Mo., a unique partnership between Springfield-Green County Park Board and Springfield Public Schools recently resulted in another NatureGrounds-inspired play environment, which is a strategic component of the Hickory Hills K-8 new school construction project, the first LEED-certified school in southwest Missouri. The joint-use site recently celebrated its grand opening. It will be used during the school day by students and teachers as an outdoor classroom, and will also be available for families and community members to use for play and recreation. "This innovative project and partnership have been instrumental in helping us meet the needs of both Springfield's students and neighborhoods," explained Jodie Adams, Park Board director.

So next time you're planning a playground, think about how to incorporate nature, both existing and new, into the plan. Rather than cutting down trees to make room for equipment, find out how to incorporate them into the design, to give children and families both natural and built elements and the greatest variety for play and recreation. You'll discover your effort will result in sustained repeat visits, a relaxed and playful social atmosphere, and an overall growth in community social capital!


Anne-Marie Spencer is the director of marketing for GameTime. To receive a copy of NatureGrounds: Best Practice Guidelines, contact her at