Thinking Forward on Custom Nature Play

Dove Springs Park in Austin, Texas

A result of strategic, collaborative partnerships and forward-thinking community leaders, the new nature-inspired custom playscape at Dove Springs Park in Austin, Texas, is turning heads.

Marty Stump, division manager at the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department, trumpeted the collaboration between designers and the community that brought about this playground for the Austin suburb.

"This project began with the brainstorming process of design professionals," Stump said, "but was inspired by models made by children as part of a nature program here at Parks and Rec."

Designed in conjunction with landscape architects from Austin-based TBG Partners, along with guidance and support from the Austin Parks Foundation, Natural Learning Institute, National Wildlife Federation and Austin Parks and Recreation, the playscape is accessible for children and adults of all abilities. Play equipment manufacturer GameTime provided play equipment for the innovative new playscape.

The playground features a massive, custom treehouse with animals sculpted into the structure inside and out, encouraging exploration and discovery as children climb, balance and slide throughout the structure. A smaller "clubhouse"-themed play system for younger children features recycled plastic lumber. The playground also includes swings and other motion play activities.

The playground incorporates naturalized areas for play and exploration, integrated with manufactured equipment, providing a pathway to nature for children. The design of the natural play elements was informed by research from the Natural Learning Initiative and its NatureGrounds program. Developed in conjunction with PlayCore, NatureGrounds is a comprehensive program that provides best practice guidelines for creating and retrofitting play environments for parks and school grounds that integrate manufactured play equipment and the living landscape.

A dry creek bed runs throughout the play areas, promoting loose-parts play during dry periods and water exploration during rainy times. Native plantings, including trees, shrubs and grasses, create comfort and visual interest while providing additional play value.

Allen Cooper of the National Wildlife Federation oversaw naturalization efforts.

"We are committed to reconnecting children in America with nature," he said, "and this project is part of our strategy to assist and create natural play areas so children and families can connect with nature close to their homes."

One of the most exciting features in the park is a 100-foot SkyRun Zipline, which allows children to experience the sensation of flight across the playground in a safe and compliant way.

"I love that the children have an opportunity to take some 'risks'—taking a little bit of risk helps children become adults," said Ladye Anne Wofford of the Austin Parks Foundation.

"It's profoundly gratifying to work with partners like the City of Austin, who understand the need for play and to reconnect children with nature," said Tom Norquist, senior vice president at GameTime. "Austin has a vision for the families in their community, and we were honored to play a part in their mission to enrich childhood through play."

Natural Learning Initiative:
TBG Partners: