Update: Sadly, the 2016 wind storm took down the towering pines in the playscape so it no longer has dappled shade. However, the stumps left awesome natural climbing and jumping structures.
What is the difference between a playground and nature playscape? The latter are spaces that incorporate natural surroundings rather than the plastic or metal play structures of the former. Trees, logs, stumps, dirt, sand, rocks, and sticks are the focus and allow kids to connect, play and learn in nature.
Duluth is at the forefront of a national trend to encourage children’s physical and mental health and foster their imaginations by supporting nature play.
To my knowledge, Hartley Park offers the first playscape in the area. Just beyond the Hartley Nature Center building is a large fenced-in area, known as the “deer exclosure,” which houses the playscape. What makes it different than the rest of the park? It is a designated and contained area for nature exploration that allows kids to run, jump, and play, as they would on a playground, but under towering pine trees and with nature-made structures. It allows even the youngest of kids to explore in a safe environment.
The first time we visited Daley and Finley were entranced by the space. Thoughtfully placed stumps allowed them to leap like superheroes, and logs made for great balance beams. The rock-encircled sandbox was their favorite aspect. They discovered a toy box filled with numerous pots and pans for baking and trucks for excavating. It’s the perfect place to let imaginations go wild!
The playscape is currently being further developed with water features for making dams, mud pies, potions and soups. In fact, UMD’s Environment Education Department and landscape architects have put together a plan for 10 distinct play areas in the playscape.
Have your kids played at the Hartley Nature Playscape? If so, share your experiences below. Thanks!