Preservation Parks of Delaware County will have “natural play areas” open in four of its parks by June 1.
The four parks are: Char-Mar Ridge, 7741 Lewis Center Road, Westerville; Deer Haven, 4183 Liberty Road, Delaware; Emily Traphagen, 5094 Seldom Seen Road, Powell; and Shale Hollow Preserve, 6320 Artesian Run, Lewis Center.
Char-Mar’s natural play area was installed three weeks ago, and had a “soft” opening last weekend.
“Our education department came up with the idea, passed the plans down to us, and we put it together,” said Patrick Shirey, Char-Mar park manager. “Everything we used here was out of this park.”
The natural play area in Char-Mar, one of the system’s busier parks, isn’t far from the start of the Glacier Ridge Trail. It contains a tic tac toe board and tiles; a messy materials table; log stump maze; wooden spoons paddles to dig in the dirt; slide; framing square; benches; and a grapevine hut.
“We envision the kids using that grapevine hut just for an impromptu fort or play area with other kids,” said Sue Hagan, Preservation Parks spokeswoman. “The idea is to have kids out exploring nature in an unstructured way, a way to get them off the trail and experience the park and the outdoors in a way that they’re using the natural materials and their imagination, to pretend without a lot of rules about how they can play.”
With the exception of the slide, all of the natural play area consists of wood, mainly ash trees that were damaged by the emerald ash borer.
“We had to clear the area of ash trees, and the goal was to use all that material to create the station,” Shirey said. “We’re hoping it lasts five years.”
Although there are no instruction manuals and few signs in the area, park officials think kids will figure out ways to occupy themselves.
“This is kind of a new concept for us,” Shirey said. “It was nice to get something that will get kids off trail, put down the cellphone and the video games, and interact with nature.
“It’s keeping with our passive recreation theme,” Hagan said. “Natural play areas are something we’re seeing pop up around the country, and there really is a movement to get kids outside and not have everything be so structured. We’re really excited about this and hope it draws some new audiences to the park, and augments the whole experience for families.”
Hagan said new maps that include the natural play areas will be issued in the summer. The maps will include another recent change — all of the Preservation Parks will retain their names, but will be called parks instead of preserves, in an effort to attract more visitors.
For more information, visit www.preservationparks.com.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.