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Castaway Island:
Imagination Playground

By Brenda Iraola, ASLA, RLA, CPSI, MRPA, NRPA, Landscape Architecture Supervisor, Park Planning & Development Division, Prince George County, Md., Department of Parks & Recreation

A large map of Castaway Island planted in a "sand dune" welcomes children to the Fort Washington, Md. custom playground. The map shows where the ship came aground on the tropical island. A closer look at the map reveals sea creatures and a diver. The sand partially conceals sea turtles, seashells, jewels and a shovel. A red and white life preserver, inspired by the prop used on "Gilligan's Island" to introduce the cast, lets children poke their heads through for photo opportunities.

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Landscape Architecture section, Park Planning and Development division, has taken the lead in creating new playgrounds for Prince George County residents. The new playgrounds promote "imagination play" through custom designs and equipment. One of the newest playgrounds constructed is Castaway Island, located at the Tucker Road Athletic Complex in Fort Washington, Maryland. Editor's note: Fort Washington (pop. 23,717) is on the east bank of the Potomac, across the river from Mount Vernon, and just south of D.C. The community is named for the fort built in 1809 to protect D.C.

Playground Theme Inspiration
While growing up, my favorite television show was Gilligan's Island (Sept. 1964 to Sept. 4, 1967). I enjoyed how the shipwrecked crew made everyday items from what they found on their deserted island.The show was filmed somewhere in Hawaii [I think]. Editor's note: The "deserted isle" was really at CBS Radford Studios in L.A. Imagine that, a fake lagoon! Gilligan's cave was a real cave, but at Little Corona Beach (Corona del Mar, Newport Beach, Calif.). The opening scene of the show is a shot of the Minnow at Alamitos Bay Marina in Long Beach, then a scene of the Minnow leaving Newport Beach Harbor.

After the purchase of a custom shipwreck playground piece from Cre8play (the "Best Show" exhibit at the 2009 American Society of Landscape Architect Expo in Chicago), I had an idea. Why not use the shipwreck to create a themed playground called "Castaway Island?" Children would be able to play on fun and exciting equipment and experience the creativeness of how typical island items could become play equipment!


The Sand Castle incorporates a grass-hut roof with bamboo-like supports and railings. There's a coconut stack climber, a bridge made of paddle oars and two slides, one a bright orange rescue raft made into a chute. On the sandcastle children discover lizards, a sea gull, crabs, starfish, seashells and snails. Kids can spin a custom-designed wheel to select sounds of crashing waves, squawking sea gulls, the voice of a pirate captain and old transistor radio music. There's even a GFRC replica of the soccer ball ('Wilson') that became Tom Hanks' companion in 'Castaway.'

Entrance Map - You Are Here!
Upon entering "Castaway Island" playground, a large map awaits the children. The map shows the location of the shipwreck on a tropical island, surrounded by a vast blue ocean. Looking closely at the "You Are Here!" map, the children can look for the hidden creatures: sharks, divers and fish. "Play at your own risk, and watch out for the sharks!" reads the sign. The sign, posted on a sandy base, includes sea turtles, seashells, jewels, and a shovel. Also featured is a red and white life preserver, like the one used on Gilligan's Island as a prop to introduce the cast. Children can poke their heads through the opening in the life preserver for a photo opportunity, documenting their visit to Castaway Island.


Children discover beneath the shipwreck a hidden cave aglow by lantern light, and see evidence of those shipwrecked: a plate of fish bones and a cave dweller's calendar marking off the days.

Shipwreck Voyage
Children (ages 5-12) can venture onto the spectacular "Shipwreck Voyage" play equipment. A ship, broken in half, is washed up on the sands of a deserted tropical island. Trees and a beautiful flowering landscape surround the imagination playground. The ship has hidden play elements, including a small alcove containing a plate with fish bones (possibly eaten by the shipwrecked crew), a lantern and chalk alcove wall markings indicating the number of "days at sea"! There are surprises: snakes, and a slide that extends from the ship's deck, which is entered from above where the crow's nest is located. The ship entry has a passenger luggage climber and climbing rope, probably thrown overboard upon landing on the beach. The ship's broken faux wood shows the damage incurred during the voyage.


The palm tree shade structures are made of metal to avoid the wear and tear of cloth shades. The palm fronds and palm benches were engineered and handcrafted by Cre8play with personalized graphics and textured paints.

Venture onto the ship from the landing area to see and touch the large anchor, and discover a bottle with hidden message inside! Climbing up the ships steps toward the upper deck reveals nautical items: a map, compass and seashells. The handrails along the plank access resemble bamboo from the island's rain forest. On the ships deck is a large crow's nest and porthole bubble to peer through, and a working telescope overseeing the tropical tisland landscape.


Nautical climbers on the ship's fore port side are challenging and creative, using luggage from the shipwrecked crew, fun cargo nets and internal rope climbers. The ships' stern has a tube slide and a stair-type climber. A "plank" bridge with bamboo railings provides an accessible connection. On the ship's deck is a porthole bubble to peer through and a telescope; above rises a crow's nest.

Palm Tree Shade Structures
The palm tree shade structures are made of metal to avoid the wear and tear of cloth shades. The palm leaves are hand crafted and engineered by Cre8play. Their personalized graphics and textured paint really make the palm tree look real! As the landscape architect, I wanted a palm leaf bench seat supported by a coconut. Cre8play engineered the design and painted it with artistic flare.


A bamboo inspired swing set near the palm shade trees has two belt swings and two enclosed tot seat swings. A colorful parrot majestically surveys the scene.

Custom Play Equipment
Cre8play created all the customized playground elements. The company helped bring my Castaway Island playground vision to life. Some of their photos show the specialized work of custom playground pieces. Many custom play elements were formed using glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC). After purchasing the main shipwreck play piece, I worked with Cre8play to include other island elements, such as a bamboo swing set in which a parrot sits watching children swing near the palm shade trees. Children can climb through the wooden barrel, or sit on the treasure chest filled with jewels and pearls! Fun talking components include the old style diving helmet and seahorse talking tubes. I also wanted to add sounds to the play equipment. Cre8play added a custom voice control wheel that spins to make nautical sounds: ocean waves crashing, sea gulls squawking, the voice of pirate captain and old transistor radio music.


Coconuts (steppers) dot the landscape. The lad (right) is in front of the crate climber. An ADA transform platform connects to the prow of the ship. The children (left) mount the ship from the "landing site" to the upper deck, finding a map, a compass and seashells as they climb. The handrails resemble bamboo from the island's rainforest.

Sandcastle and Seagull Structures
Young children (ages 2-5) have fun experiencing the oversized "sandcastle" play structure. The sandcastle has a slide, sea gull, coconut stack climber, a grass-hut roof with crawling lizards, bridge made of paddle oars, and bright orange rescue raft made into a slide chute. While playing on the sandcastle, you can find crabs, starfish, seashells, and snails. There is even a bucket and shovel stuck in the make-believe sand!


The stern of the ship is accessed by this rock climber, decorated with marine hanger-ons, a bivalve mollusk (clam) and a member of the echinodermata family (star fish).

Colorful Safety Surfacing
The poured-in-place rubber safety surfacing was custom designed. Bright island colors show rain forest, grassland, sandy beaches and a beautiful ersatz aqua-blue ocean with white foaming waves. Hidden in the deep blue ocean waters are five sharks with mysterious grey colors. The sharks appear swimming in circles near the swings and underneath the ship's plank.


The colorful seahorse and old style diving helmet incorporate talking tubes.

As the landscape architect, I chose beautiful pink, white, and lavender tropical-looking plants for island floriculture. Plants include: crapemyrtle, southern magnolia, chocolate mimosa, sweetbay magnolia, hibiscus, Korean spice viburnum, daylilly, muhly grass, pampas grass, heavenly bamboo, hardy banana trees and needle palms. Fragrant flowers appear when the plants bloom! The landscape also provides a setting for the picnic-game table area. Parents and children can sit, eat, relax or read books ... an adventure story perhaps!


The poured-in-place safety surfacing in different shades of blue and teeming with sharks give a sense of moving waters.

Island Character
The playground's island character is complete with rocky ocean shoreline. Boulders from Western Maryland and Pennsylvania were placed along playground edges. Large boulders were hand selected to serve as seating areas. The rubber poured-in-place surfacing was installed to create a natural edge with the boulders.


Shipwreck survivors on Castaway Island take some solace in the company of birds, sea creatures and other island denizens.

Come Visit!
Visit Prince George's County, Maryland and play at "Castaway Island." Have fun experiencing the fantastic Shipwreck Voyage and enjoy the beautiful tropical island atmosphere!

Project Team
Landscape Architect / Project Manager / Design Concept: Brenda Iraola
Design Development / Engineering / Manufacturing Play Equipment: Cre8Play
Construction / Playground Installation: Custom Park Services, Inc.
Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission Staff:
Chris Colvin (design and drawings)
Rene Albacete (banana tree plantings)
Rob Clark & Salessi Douglas (construction inspectors)
Robert Nekita (University of Maryland intern)
Rick Moreland & Crews (survey data)
Lindsey Neal, Tom Sothern, and Crew Staff - (Southern Area Operations)
Photography: Brenda Iraola and Cre8play

Play Equipment & Sign: Cre8Play
Boulders: Ernest Maier Inc.
Landscape Plants & Stepping Stones: Patuxent Nursery
Picnic Game Tables: GameTime
Poured-In-Place Rubber Surfacing: Sport Surface Specialties

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December 14, 2019, 7:48 am PDT

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