Feature Article - October 2011
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Safe Haven

Protect Patrons & Beautify Sites With Shade & Shelters

By Rick Dandes

Shelters and shade structures can provide a wide array of benefits to parks and recreation facilities—and their visitors. From sun protection to a home base to gather the troops, shelters serve myriad functions.

Offering visitors shelter in recreation areas has become an ever more vital issue throughout the United States due to changing and indeterminate weather conditions, and the increasing awareness of the danger of skin cancer caused by the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.

Because of these concerns, the inclusion of shade structures, shelters and even enclosures is receiving more attention—and more importantly, funding—from government officials and private benefactors, who are seeking cost-effective, safe and aesthetically appealing structures to provide shade for visitors to parks and playgrounds, pools and waterparks, sports and athletic facilities, retail and community centers and much more.

"It's true, the most obvious reason to have a shelter in a park is to protect your guests from the harmful rays of the sun," said Steve Sharpe, general manager, Summer Waves Water Park, Jekyll Island, Ga.

"Today's sun lovers are more knowledgeable about the risks of spending too much time in the sun. And these shade structures can offer them relief from the heat and exposure."

But there are other reasons, Sharpe said, to have shelters as part of your overall design. Families and groups like to make these shelter structures "home base" for their day at the park. And, if a family member gets separated from the group, they know where to go to reunite.

"Adding new and different shelter structures to your park is a good, low-cost way to upgrade your facility," Sharpe added. "With the different styles, vibrant colors and covering options of the new structures, you are limited only by your imagination. With most manufacturers having design specialists on staff who are eager to help, you can turn a boring space into a beautiful desired location of your park."

Shelters may also be introduced into a park environment to "energize" a space with social activity—and can even become a fairly substantial source of revenue. Picnic shelters with grills and other amenities will provide the foundation for the location of other facilities such as playgrounds, fishing piers and horseshoe pits within the park, said Fred Walters, a principal with MESA Design Group, based in Dallas.

"Depending upon the program of use," he continued, "these facilities are often rented for special events and corporate functions. Shelters are generally located in choice areas of parks to take advantage of scenic views, lakeside breezes or nestled adjacent to a picturesque grove of trees. If well designed, these structures have the potential to be timeless and iconic features of the park's identity and heritage."