Nature Play Comes to Wildwood
By David Mumpower
No city planner wants to be the one who paves paradise to put up a parking lot. The problem is that communities need parks where parents can take their children to play safely. Historically, the path of progress has meant bulldozed lands and felled trees. Now that more architects have started focusing on reducing their carbon footprint, another option has arisen.
Natural play combines children's love of parks with their need for outdoor play. Take, for example, the city of Wildwood, Mo.
In 2007, the local government polled its constituency, asking if they'd like to use available funding to buy new land. Its express purpose was as a community park, but the surprising aspect from the results wasn't about the acquisition itself. A plurality of voters indicated that they not only wanted a community park, but also one that wasn't indoors. They voted against more traditional play areas such as a baseball field or skatepark, instead choosing walking trails and fishing ponds.
The results make sense in that many parents today worry that their kids play on the Internet too much. They need to go outside and play more. The Wildwood government acknowledged this vote and contracted construction on Wildwood Community Park, a 66-acre project estimated to cost $20 million to complete. Oates Associates, the builders, recently opened The Grove, which is phase one of the project. This park spans seven acres, and it's one of the finest recent examples of natural play.
Rather than tear up the land, The Grove intertwines with the surrounding natural elements to create a unique playground environment.
That's one of the other benefits of natural play. Each playground is unique, negating criticisms about cookie-cutter design. Wildwood Mayor Timothy Woerther lauded the result, stating, "Oates Associates helped us meet our goal of creating a diverse and memorable space for our avid recreational community, while protecting the unique topography of the land."
While The Grove does have standard park features such as exercise and picnic areas and a pavilion, the natural play attributes distinguish it. Wildwood citizens enjoy rock walls and ledges cut into the existing landscape. Log piles and posts reinforce the eco-friendly nature of the construction, as do other climbing structures crafted into the landscape. The showstopper elements are a giant teepee play area and a 20-foot tower kids can climb. It's a sublime integration of standard manmade park elements and creative natural play functionality.
The Grove at Wildwood, Mo., is only the first phase of a planned 10-year development. Its intuitive design reflects all the contemporary elements that elevate a community park into a natural play mecca. By embracing outdoor recreational opportunities, they've crafted a forward-thinking communal solution that cleverly emphasizes its topographical surroundings.