Guest Column - April 2010
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Parks & Playgrounds

Extreme Makeover, Park Edition

By Rebecca Beach

iven the large and growing body of research proving the need for people to spend time outdoors in natural environments, the challenge now is how to create these outdoor spaces.

Most park and recreation directors for the past several decades have focused primarily on sports and fitness because that is what the American public demanded from their local parks. The need and interest in sports has not diminished, but there is a public awareness that nature is one of the best places for restoration of the human spirit. This has created a need for spaces that naturally draw people outside.

America's community parks can be a part of the outdoor environmental solution. But, it may take an extreme makeover.

Once the community, park board and recreation directors become aware of the potential hidden in their park, they may need some direction. Many park and recreation specialists are not specifically trained as designers and can easily feel overwhelmed as to where to start. If the goal is to create inviting spaces to keep families in the park after the ball game is over, then a new design perspective will be needed. A cooperative effort between the park board and a professional designer trained in harmonizing the human element with the natural world, such as a landscape architect, can be a place to start.

A simple beginning point most likely would be a thorough site analysis to determine the existing natural features that can be developed into interesting outdoor experiences.

Natural bodies of water are always an outdoor magnet for people of all ages. Any water from a small creek to a pond or ocean beach will naturally bring life to the park. The bigger it is, the more development will pay off. Of course, if a park is on or near a large body of water, boating and water recreation sports are a given and have probably been part of the park's attraction. But even small creeks and streams should not be overlooked as an attractive natural feature. A small creek can be enhanced with boulders, bridges and recycling pumps. Attracting or adding wildlife such as fish, frogs and amphibians will delight adults and children alike. Allowing users to fish, float, wade, splash and generally have fun in the water is essential. Too often the most interesting spaces are off limits.