Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Welcome to Nature: Portland's First Nature-Based Play Area Opens at Westmoreland Park

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Welcome to Nature: Portland's First Nature-Based Play Area Opens at Westmoreland Park

Article excerpt

In a city known for innovation and residents' love of the outdoors, Portland, Oregon, recently opened its first nature-based play area at Westmoreland Park. On any given day, the park's new nature-based play area may be filled with hundreds of children playing in the sand and water, climbing on massive boulders and log features and building forts with branches. Adults watch the imaginative play inspired by the natural elements, and also participate with children in exploring the play area's unique features. Portland Parks and Recreation saw a great opportunity to target this site as a nature-based play pilot project in the Portland parks system, and to replace the park's outdated play area.

Design Process

Nothing is traditional about Westmoreland Park's nature-based play project. The Portland-based firm GreenWorks, P.C. led a design team, working closely with Portland Parks and Recreation and engaging in extensive public outreach that revealed tremendous community support for nature-based play. The design team collaborated with environmental artist Adam Kuby on the play area's overall conceptual design. The theme behind the design tells the story of the restored Crystal Springs Creek flowing through the park. The designers developed a sequence to the spaces that metaphorically follows the path of rainwater from the forests of the Cascades to Crystal Springs, accentuated by interpretive poetic messages carved into basalt columns that march along the pathway from the park's Sequoia grove to the creek channel.

The team developed play-feature details and adhered to national safety guidelines where applicable. While visually engaging, the park is also intended to be safe, secure and maintenance friendly. This meant that a lot of the design process took place in the field. The team labored long in fabricators' workshops and onsite to determine the acceptable level of risk for each play element, evaluating each boulder and log while still providing beneficial challenges important to childhood development. Team members logged (no pun intended), more time on the construction phase than a traditional playground project.

Natural Materials

Community and staff input informed the selection of mostly natural materials rather than artificial rocks or logs. That choice demanded innovative solutions for design and maintenance.

Sand. The sand-water combination is higher maintenance, but ultimately very rewarding for fueling imaginative play. Sand migrates a lot, and therefore, requires daily maintenance. To minimize maintenance, surfaces adjacent to the sand should be designed to handle sand piling up (like gravel, landscape or lawn areas). …

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