Supplement Feature - April 2018
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Get Moving, Get Playing!

Active Playgrounds for Kids on the Go

By Dave Ramont

They said there is an ROI (return on investment) factor as well, as numerous studies cite increased property values and tourism, economic development and a reduction of municipal service costs when such initiatives are realized. "People are realizing the positive impact physical activity has on everyone, and the response has been more play spaces that focus on getting kids, neighbors and families out and moving."

Callison said the Play On! initiative has been a major driver for parks and schools nationwide that utilize the curriculum to extend their physical education classes onto the playground. "It's also a great way for community parks and rec centers to program their playgrounds during the summer months and during after-school programs." Callison also sees communities creating areas within their parks for multigenerational physical activity, by providing, for example, a playground for younger children, an obstacle course for older children and adults, and outdoor fitness products for parents and seniors. "It's a great way to encourage the entire family to be more active together. It's changed the way communities plan parks."

In 2011, the city of Graham, N.C., purchased approximately 120 acres to build Graham Regional Park, which will be developed in phases over many years. "Creating a park that promotes physical activity for multiple generations is the driving vision for Graham Regional Park," said Brian Faucette, director of recreation and parks for Graham.

The first section opened in April 2017, and includes a natural playground with many amenities that get kids moving: three large climbing boulders; a double slide built into a hill; a custom treehouse featuring a double-spiral slide, swings and a 100-foot zip line; a log crawl-through tube and other features for kids to climb on. Faucette explained that these elements were incorporated into a shaded space around mature poplar trees. "The natural beauty of the land inspired the specific elements we ultimately chose." They chose an EWF (engineered wood fiber) surface as it provides safety, but also fits the natural playground aesthetics.

Next to the playground is a popular challenge course, with "ninja-style" obstacles. "The challenge course has the designation of youth simply due to the height and spacing of the equipment," Faucette said. "Parents are often seen running the course alongside their children."

Under the course is artificial turf with infill. "We'll need to implement a maintenance schedule to groom the turf to make sure the common path through the equipment is not prematurely worn out."

Faucette said the zip line is also a huge hit. "It's rated for use by a person weighing up to 250 pounds, and we've witnessed many adults reliving their childhood on the zip line." An adult challenge course is also planned.

There are also four stations of exercise equipment that have proven popular, with each station featuring four exercise elements with at least one accessible element in each. And there is a 16-foot wide multi-use trail around the park. "We marked the trail with designated bike and walk lanes and designed the layout so each pod is encircled by the trail, creating an opportunity for adults to exercise while children play," Faucette said, adding that the community has really embraced the unique elements and multi-generational play the park offers.

Indeed, updated versions of the classic obstacle course are extremely popular these days. "Challenge courses have been an enormous hit. Park directors love them because they offer a new way to encourage people to visit parks. Many times these courses are installed near traditional playgrounds to create a multigenerational recreation space," Callison said. He described Schaper Park, a project they completed in Golden Valley, Minn., where a challenge course and 40-yard dash were installed adjacent to a fully-inclusive playground, creating a unique destination for families of all abilities.

These courses are great for children who have outgrown traditional playgrounds, as well as teenagers and adults who enjoy competitive fitness activities. Callison said they offer a series for middle and high schools, parks and universities with a size and scale appropriate for users age 13 and up, as well as a series designed for elementary schools and parks because it meets the standards for children ages 5 to 12.

The courses also utilize an optional timing app that tracks your success, can compare your time with users across the country, and features real-time results and leader boards. "The app also allows park directors to see the number of people using the course, as well as anonymous data such as return visits, age range of users, etc.," Callison said. Other course accessories include timing systems, photo booth and sound effect systems.

The Play On! initiative was created to "promote physical fitness and fun through the use of well-designed outdoor play environments and creative playground learning activities."

Lisiecki and Johnson's company also offers fitness course options, providing challenging physical obstacles that an individual or team can take on. They feature three levels of challenge and multiple options within each level, offering an exercise experience for beginner, intermediate or advanced users. There's a design for age 5 to 12, and one for ages 13 and up. "Taking adolescents and getting them outside and engaged with family and friends is part of our mission that this new product line supports," Lisiecki and Johnson said. They explained that one of the main drivers in developing this equipment is the fact that adolescents aged 12 to 19 have the highest obesity rate of all children—just over 20 percent.