When you’re in the thick of winter hibernation, you dream of the days you can play outdoors without the chill and dampness chasing you back inside. So, you snuggle under the blankets, grab your cocoa and flip on the TV to find an escape until the sun peeks its head out again.
But while you and your kiddos are bingeing Disney+ all winter long, dedicated landscapers and construction workers are braving the cold to create the ultimate playground for the warmer days ahead.
Since breaking ground on the child-inspired Nature Playscape in Forest Park last summer, Forest Park Forever, the City of St. Louis and their team of partners have been pushing forward on this much-anticipated project at full speed, constructing eight activity areas where your kids will soon splash, climb, build, and learn. Already halfway completed, this one-of-a-kind play area in the heart of the park is destined to grow children’s interest in the natural world around them.
Said Stephen Schenkenberg, vice president of communications and marketing for Forest Park Forever, “The Nature Playscape is really a wonderful kind of meeting point between the natural ethos of the park and the sense of play that kids have in places that are meant just for them.”
A new way to explore the great outdoors
One of the biggest surprises to people when they learn about the Nature Playscape is the sheer size of the project. Forest Park Forever and the City of St. Louis are transforming 17 acres of mowed turf into more natural landscapes for children to explore with biodiverse play areas, including Mounds, Spring, Meadow, and Wetlands.
The Playscape will be home to more than 280 native species trees, 100 species of grasses and flowering plants, and water-based features, but what you won’t find are the plastic materials and manufactured equipment of traditional playgrounds.
“Those things definitely have their place in play” Schenkenberg explained. “But the Nature Playscape will be a dramatically different experience, providing that same joy children get on the playground, but with an even greater sense of discovery. This is really a chance to connect kids to the park and build those same connections with nature.”
Artists' rendering of a section of the the Forest Park Playscape.
To ensure the Nature Playscape is not only a fun place for kids to visit, but also allows them the opportunity to engage as active learners, project leads involved local experts in child development and children themselves in the planning process. According to Schenkenberg, informational sessions were held at more than 20 schools, rec centers and educational organizations around the city to secure kids’ feedback, and in some instances, children came to the park to share their insights on the types of play they would enjoy.
Developers integrated many of their ideas into the design, and by July of last year, the team was able to break ground for Nature Playscape between the World’s Fair Pavilion and the Jewel Box. Since then, the project has quickly taken shape, transforming the landscape and igniting the public’s excitement. As of January 2020, 1,400 tons of rock and boulders from Lincoln County have been installed, more than 130 trees have taken root, and 4,000 flower bulbs have been planted in the sensory garden.
While the Nature Playscape won’t open until later this year, the people behind the park are excited for what the project will mean to both the 13 million annual visitors to Forest Park and to the St. Louis region as a whole.
Said Schenkenberg, “It would be an absolute win if a family who comes to the Playscape for a couple of hours on a Saturday goes back home to their own neighborhood with a greater connection to nature, a greater sense of commitment to green spaces, and a better understanding of why they’re both important. We love when people visit and enjoy Forest Park, but we also want to inspire an interest in the use and value of green spaces in general.”
Photos/renderings: Courtesy of Forest Park Forever