Innovative outdoor play areas are coming soon to a neighborhood near you, just as demand for outdoor activities has never been greater.
At Bluff Lake Nature Center, construction workers are putting the final touches on five natural play stations designed to encourage children to use their imaginations about the natural world. “Treetop Advantage” features a nest structure atop a tree trunk with a sign that teaches kids about various bird nests.“Burrow Discovery” has climb-through tunnels and asks children to think about what it must be like to live underground like prairie dogs. Other areas encourage jumping on tree stumps, building structures with branches, or climbing a dirt hill.
If it sounds like good old-fashioned fun, that’s the point, says Rachel Crouch, Bluff Lake’s executive director. She notes that attendance at the nature center has almost doubled during the pandemic and the popularity of its summer camps has soared. “We’re thrilled that we’ve been able to be a resource for families during this difficult time and the play structures will only enhance that experience.” The play areas, funded by a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, were built mostly out of natural materials and are designed to seamlessly blend into the wildlife habitat.
A very different playground is nearing completion at the Stanley Marketplace. The LuBird’s Light Foundation playground will be filled with vivid colors, sparkling lights, musical sounds, and play structures that can be accessed by children who are blind, in wheelchairs, or have other disabilities. But executive director, Juliet Dawkins, is quick to point out that this is not a playground just for disabled kids. “It’s an inclusive playground where all are welcomed. The simple act of play should be able to be accessed by everyone. Playgrounds are where kids learn and friendships are formed.”
Dawkins started the foundation after her daughter Lucia (nicknamed “LuBird”) was born with a rare genetic condition called Pallister Killian Syndrome (PKS), which limits her mobility and vision. One of Lucia’s favorite activities is swinging, so the foundation’s first project was to fund specialized supportive swings that have been installed at City Park, Cheesman Park, Congress Park, and Central Park.
In addition to swings, the 9,000 square foot playground at Stanley will contain slides accessed by ramps, a mery-go-round that is flush with the ground, and a trampoline for children in wheelchairs. The million-dollar project was funded by grants and individual contributions, while the land was donated by the city of Aurora and Stanley Marketplace. It is scheduled to open in May.
Families will have to wait until next year to enjoy a natural play space that is being designed for the southeast region of City Park. (This is separate from the traditional playground on the west side of the park that is currently being reconstructed). The new $6 million project is being funded and created through a joint partnership between Denver Parks and Recreation and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. After more than a year of listening sessions with the public, the museum’s Jacqueline Altreuter says they are close to having a finished design. Covering 3-4 acres, the play area will have eight zones representing the eight ecosystems found in Colorado. “There will be water features, rocks, and stumps. We want to create a place of respite because we know that quiet places in nature are hard to come by in the city.” Denver Parks’ Michael Bouchard says the idea is to give children who may not have access to the mountains an immersive experience in the natural world. “You can’t overstate the importance of that kind of tactile experience.” Write to firstname.lastname@example.org to request email updates.