Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R)’s first-ever permanent nature-based play area is now open at Westmoreland Park, SE McLoughlin Blvd and SE Bybee Blvd. The Westmoreland natural play area is the first such permanent playscape across the PP&R system and features play elements made of logs and boulders, sand & water play, plants, hills, and opportunities for building with “loose parts” such as branches, sticks, pinecones and more.
A recent US Army Corps of Engineers project (in conjunction with the Bureau of Environmental Serves and PP&R) restored Crystal Springs Creek to its natural flow through Westmoreland Park. This project meant that Westmoreland Park’s aging playground had to be moved away from the restored floodplain to a more desirable location on higher ground. The equipment was outdated and needed to be replaced. Community input showed a strong enthusiasm for the idea of nature play.
“This is a unique and wonderful project to encourage children to play creatively and connect with nature,” says Portland Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz. “The new Westmoreland play area is a site where people of all ages can spend much-needed time outdoors, and enjoy unstructured play, away from apps and TV screens, to provide valuable and hands-on educational and social experiences. This special place is sure to create treasured memories.”
A celebration of the renovated park, the restoration of Crystal Springs Creek, and the return of salmon to the city will be held on Saturday, October 25, from 11am-4pm. Please see this link
for more info on that day’s program, which will include a Native American blessing, tours of the rejuvenated park, games, crafts, and inter-tribal activities. The event will be free and open to all.
The new, nature-based playscape is a pilot project for Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R)’s Nature-Based Play Initiative, with a goal of creating settings in developed parks that encourage creative play and interaction with nature and natural materials. PP&R continues to explore the concept of nature play, a movement that is building support in the public, with educators and with parents. A natural play environment connects children and families with nature. Natural materials increase environmental awareness and appreciation.
“Portland Parks & Recreation’s mission includes stewardship of the environment,” notes PP&R Director Mike Abbaté. “And we hope that Westmoreland’s new play area inspires connection to the environment and environmental stewardship. Children are innately fascinated by nature. We are proud to offer a natural play area that creates opportunities for children to explore, discover, take challenges and risks, and learn. These are the types of play which are essential to healthy development.”
Westmoreland Park’s Natural Play Area features include:
Creek Mound – a concrete stream channel with willow tunnels, water pumps, mazes where children can manipulate the water’s flow, and a large sand play area.
Forest Mound – features logs tilted at varying inclines for climbing and adventure, a hill slide build on a natural embankment, and boulder scrambles.
Mountain Mound - made of natural boulders and logs featuring varying degrees of difficulty, for climbing, balancing and unstructured play.
Log Climbers – log segment sculptures for climbing; this feature calls to mind tree climbing.
Creative Building – building frames for creative play with “loose parts”, such as branches, pinecones, etc., for building forts, tents, etc.
Crystal Springs Interpretive Markers – inspired by the recently restored namesake creek that runs through the park. Basalt column stones are engraved with poetic phrases, telling the story of Crystal Springs.
Enchanted Forest - a grove of Giant Sequoia trees serves as the centerpiece of an area for free and imaginative play.
Grassy picnic area - grassy mounds for sitting and picnicking
Park benches - log benches and standard park benches.
Split rail fencing – low fencing to help keep younger children within the boundaries of the play area.
The revitalized Crystal Springs Creek inspired the theme of the new Westmoreland Park play area designed by the landscape architecture firm, GreenWorks PC, in conjunction with public artist Adam Kuby. Kuby worked integrally with the design team to develop the concepts of several of the primary play features through the City of Portland Percent for Art program, administered by the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC).
Though PP&R has had many requests to incorporate nature play into park land, the Westmoreland Park play area is the first large-scale natural play area project the bureau has built. Spring Garden Park in southwest Portland has a nature play area, designed to be a temporary site (though some elements of nature play may be incorporated into the playground’s design as the park is developed). The Westmoreland Park natural play area came about from a combination of projects, needs, and funding. The Westmoreland Stream Restoration project (funded and facilitated through the US Army Corps of Engineers) was completed in July of 2014. The design for the stream restoration required relocating part of the former, outdated playground away from the stream bank and floodplain and up to higher ground. That opened up the opportunity to provide the park a completely new play area. The themes and goals of nature play fit perfectly with the environmental restoration project. Public outreach and input made it clear that neighbors were supportive of the concept.
“The research proving the developmental and environmental stewardship benefits of children having a strong connection with nature have grown dramatically over the past 15-20 years,” says the PP&R project manager for Westmoreland Park’s playground, Sandra Burtzos. “It’s something that people who work with children have known for decades, but now a growing body of research is documenting it. This nature play area is somewhere on the continuum between learning and playing in actual nature, and a playground. Located within an urban park setting, it is one stepping stone to reconnecting children and families back to nature. I am most excited to see the multi-generational play that natural play areas are so much more conducive to than a typical play structure.”
Metro’s voter-approved 2006 natural areas (Nature in Neighborhoods) bond measure provided $150,000 in funding for the Westmoreland Park natural play area.
The remaining project cost (approximately $900,000) is being funded by Portland Parks & Recreation General Fund tax dollars and by System Development Charges from new construction in Portland. The project was constructed by three different contractors working closely together: Cascadian Landscapers served as the City’s General Contractor, Adam Kuby & Stone Sculptures Inc. installed the log and boulder play features, and Oregon Log Homes fabricated the log play elements out of salvaged trees that had to be removed from other park sites.
About Nature Play
Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods: Nature Deficit Disorder” was first published in 2005 and helped start a nationwide movement “No Child Left Inside” and investment into creating nature-based play areas such as what PP&R has just completed at Westmoreland Park.
What is Natural Play? – Oregon Natural Play Initiative, a group of professionals who have been working together to support and promote natural play in Oregon, says:
Natural Play challenges and fascinates children and teaches them about the wonders and intricacies of the natural world while they explore and play within it. It is intuitive and unstructured, constructive (or deconstructive), and timeless, encouraging interaction with natural materials, features, indigenous vegetation, and creative landforms. Natural Play is often a blend of materials and experiences to create purposely complex interplays of natural and environmental objects.
“Free play, time spent outdoors, artistic expression and socialization opportunities are invaluable to the physical and psychological health of children,” says Sandra Burtzos, PP&R project manager for Westmoreland Park’s playground. “Outdoor play facilitates creativity, fosters social connections, and cultivates children’s desire to learn. Nature play areas promote multi-generational play; they are places where parents, grandparents and other caregivers can enjoy interacting with and playing creatively with children - more so than on most manufactured play structures. And many people have fond memories of building things out of sticks, or of playing in and with sand and water.
“Children are innately fascinated by nature. By learning appreciation of nature and natural elements, they develop life-long stewardship of our natural resources. Left with open space and imagination, they’ll become more agile, more creative, better at solving problems, better at assessing risks, and better at entertaining themselves.”
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