Ground is breaking on the latest expansion project for the children's playground located at Memorial Park, officially known as the Wee Play Tot Park. The park is undergoing an imaginatively ambitious project rooted in, literally, trees. The plan involves 50 new trees that would be planted on the lower end of the existing locust forest to the immediate left of the swing sets at the base of the Memorial Park hill, and fundraising efforts have begun alongside construction endeavors.
The new poplar trees, specifically Eastern Cottonwoods, will be known as the Wee Forest. In the center of the grove will be a shaded sandbox, surrounded by a path of willow trees that will be trained to grow in an arch over the bordering path, making for a natural tunnel.
The fundraising campaign to purchase and plant the poplar trees has started (donations can be made here), with a goal of acquiring and planting 50 trees for $100 a tree. Sponsors can have their name, or that of children, friends or a business, on the Forest Map that will be in the middle of the Wee Forest. Click here to donate your first tree. (Donations in smaller amounts toward the project are also gratefully accepted.)
The Wee Play Community Project has allocated funds raised through their annual Ree Play Sale to pay for the labor of the project, and the City of Beacon, through the Parks and Recreation budget, has agreed to fund material and mulch, details of which can be read in the coversheet proposal here.
When presenting the project to the City Council, Parks and Recreation Director Mark Price described the desire to incorporate the large swath of mystical forest that exists above the park, as a way for older kids to experience the park. The idea occurred to him after the 2017 Easter Egg hunt, which was held in the trees of the locust forest instead of the great lawn. He and several others realized that the wooded area has been underutilized, even though it is just steps away from the park. By adding the 50 new trees, "it informs people that this is a play area. Some folks need a little more coaxing to [go up and play,]" explained Mark to the City Council during a Workshop on September 25, 2017.
The Big Picture
Volunteer organizers have big plans for the park, and envision structures being added around the existing playground. In her proposal letter to the City Council, Wee Play Community Project Board Member Lori Merhige discussed the findings of a survey that the group sent out to the community, which set the stage for who wanted the new approach to the playground and why:
Our survey yielded many opinions on what are the most treasured as well as the least favorite aspects of the playground. One piece of feedback we heard
repeatedly is that people were tired of all the plastic - the riding toys and the play structures. When asked what parents would like to see at the park, the majority of replies included having more natural play elements, areas for climbing, and free, unstructured nature play.
As we know, the popular metal and plastic playground play structures of today can cost tens of thousands of dollars each, they don't always hold kids' attention for
very long, and older children often don't find them engaging. The beauty of designing a natural playground is that it utilizes many available resources that we already have, as well as fostering imaginative play in children of all ages.
Natural playgrounds are surprisingly simple, safe, and affordable, and research shows that there are many benefits to kids playing creatively in nature.
A nature-based playground could involve a simple ropes course, wooden balance beams/bridges, boulders for jumping (carefully!), additional swings, and other ideas that are built as living things, or with living things, much like the nearby Hudson Highlands Nature Museum. Acting as project architect with a donation of time and ideas is Bryan Quinn from One Nature, who has designed and built nature-based playgrounds before, with a most recent one opening at Safe Harbors in Newburgh. The trees serve as strategically planted connection points for such structures to be built, or for kids to easily run through.
Sand Not Playing Nice In The Sandbox
A catalyst for this big change was the sand in the sandbox in the corner of the existing Tot Park. While people have mixed feelings about outdoor sandboxes - that they can turn into giant kitty litter boxes or encourage bugs - many families love them. However, the "rogue sand" coming from the sandbox was damaging the surface of the playground, Mark said, making it irreparable until the sandbox was gone. In the new plan, the sandbox will be in the middle of the Wee Forest, surrounded by mulch and other natural elements, hurting nothing when sand spills over, and not being a large issue if the sandbox needs to be replaced by something else.
About the Wee Play Tot Park
The public park is enjoyed by all people for free (even those who venture in from beyond Beacon) and maintained by volunteers of the Wee Play Community Project, in partnership with the Parks and Recreation Department and the City of Beacon. If you've been following A Little Beacon Blog's coverage of the park's expansion, you'll know that something is always going on over there, from community cleanups to new projects.