The Sights And Sounds Of Play

•    The Steelhead Trout River Bed–Features basalt water sprays, trout sculptures, seating and jumping water jets. Touch a brightly colored trout and trounce around on a splash pad.

•    Elk Valley Picnic Plaza–Provides shelter, tables, seating, boulders, sundial, fossils and Split Rock. Play checkers and chess at the picnic tables.

•    Eagle’s Nest Observation Deck–Includes a watershed and salmon wall, glacier rock slide, climbing wall, giant eagle’s nest sitting circle, swings, spinners, fish climbing sculpture and boulder seating.

•    Discovery Pavers and Hidden Walk–Mark a pathway with benches.

•    Musical Elements–Pound on drums and play other musical instruments in several seating nooks within larger musical areas.

•    Outdoor Classroom–Is a quiet group-gathering area.

The playground area is approximately 1 acre. The landscaping provides plenty of shade for older people and those with minimal sun tolerance. Accessible restrooms are located throughout.

Designing For The Masses

The playground’s multi-sensory design means that the variety of play and educational elements in the park appeals to all senses. Schoolchildren learn about fossils, they become the gnomon on a sun clock, or gather at the outdoor classroom for a program with teachers or a naturalist. They can explore the pavers running through the planted walkway that show the life cycles of butterflies and frogs, amble through the sensory gardens, and uncover fossils buried in the sand. Artwork includes a sandblasted concrete retaining wall that graphically depicts the life cycle of salmon as they swim from the ocean to the mountains.

The playground is designed with remarkably little equipment. All of the pieces are intentionally multi-purpose, both educational and physically challenging. Moreover, the pieces challenge and benefit all populations, but in different ways. Custom pieces like the life-sized sculpture of the bear in a cave are fun for any child. For children with special needs, such as those with autism and who may want to be more embraced, there are areas to sit in the cave and still be part of the action.

The all-inclusive design of the playground means that nothing feels separate or special. While the park is designed for disabled children, and the playground is wheelchair-accessible, that is not the specific focus, nor is it obvious. In fact, one of the goals was not to have ramps everywhere. Understanding that the main focus of play at every age is social interaction, not particularly physical activity, it becomes easier to create a venue that allows that for all ages.

Since its May opening, the playground is already averaging several hundred users a day, far beyond what was projected.

Weaving all of these levels of education, imagination, socialization and physical activity together with challenged groups, adults, elderly and children has been a worthwhile and admirable venture.

Axel Bishop is a principal and founder of landscape architecture firm Design Concepts.  He can be reached at

Carol Henry is a principal of Design Concepts specializing in the design of parks, recreation areas and school campuses.

The firm’s discipline is strictly landscape architecture and planning, with a focus on creating “people spaces.”  For more information on Design Concepts, please visit

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Related posts:

  1. The Sights and Sounds of Play
  2. Sensory Play
  3. A Tale Of Two Playgrounds
  4. H.O.P.E. For The Best
  5. A Playground For All

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