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Frog Hollow--a Great Place to Play, Hop, Laugh and Sing

By Pamela Blough, ASLA

Welcome to Frog Hollow in Wyoming... Wyoming, Mich., that is. Although the area had 20 parks, children with special needs did not have a park built to their requirements. This area of the park focuses on repetitive play at lower heights. The play area is circled with a paved and striped track for wheeled play vehicles and for wheel chairs.

Frog Hollow is a place for all children and adults to come and play, interact and enjoy the outdoors. Children with special needs can play. Adults with special needs can come and interact. It is a place for all to laugh, smile, and explore.

Color contrasts and changes in surface textures are strong visual cues in areas of transition, as from the dry riverbed ramp to the play equipment deck.

The inspiration for the development of Frog Hollow in the city of Wyoming, Michigan, began with the realization that even though the parks and recreation department's 20 parks met the basic ADA standards, there were many children with special needs in the community that still did not have an opportunity to play. Further research found this need existed throughout the greater Grand Rapids suburban area. Aware of this need, Ms. Rebecca Rynbrandt, director of parks and recreation for Wyoming, coordinated a committee to focus on this special need and to look for potential locations and funding sources, including an Able to Play grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Ms. Rynbrandt assembled a committee that included members from community leaders, health care providers, therapeutic recreation and mental health professionals, and persons with special disabilities including sight and mobility limitations. This committee worked for three years in making this inspiration and vision a reality. In August of 2005, Frog Hollow opened for fun.

Look, Mom, both hands! With all the electronic diversions, it's great to see kids get outside, play and enjoy themselves. The smile on this girl's face says it all. The modular equipment (GameTime) is challenging and fun.

The guidance from the committee and from Boundless Playgrounds, the administrator of the Able to Play grants, provided continuous input into the design. This was key to accommodating and integrating solutions that provided play for all. It was decided that it was key that this playground attract all persons and provide for seamless integration within the design and construction. The overall site design was coordinated by P.M. Blough, Inc., a landscape architecture firm with site engineering by Exxel Engineering. The construction management firm, Skanska USA, provided a vital role in overseeing the community build portion of the project and insuring all of the special materials and details were incorporated into the project construction.

Stamped and colored concrete simulate a dry riverbed and is the ramp to the upper play levels. Planted fountain grasses and bermed mulch help to give visual aids to assist the visually impaired.

Extensive community input was engaged, including design parties with kids, small focus groups and committee workshops. The theme of the park was determined to be a natural one. Living in Michigan, with lots of water, the idea of water was desired, although no water was available at the park for water play. The park is adjacent to wetlands that in the spring are populated by peeper frogs singing their beautiful songs. That became the focus of the theme.

Frog Hollow is a three-acre park situated adjacent to the new Metropolitan Health Campus. The park is bordered on two sides by a protected wooded wetlands. The park layout required careful identification of the wetland areas to be preserved. The play area is fenced with low maintenance black aluminum fencing to provide an enclosure to limit access into the wetland and provide a safe barrier for tots who might inadvertently wonder into nonplay areas.

The three acre park is situated adjacent to the new Metropolitan Health Campus. The park is bordered on two sides by a wooded wetlands with state of Michigan environmentally protected vegetation and ecosystem. The layout of the park required careful identification of the wetland areas to be preserved. The play area is fenced with low-maintenance black aluminum fencing to provide an enclosure to limit access into the wetland and provide a safe barrier for those who might inadvertently wonder into nonplay areas.

The sensory planter provides raised viewing and touching of nontoxic plants with aromatic smells and interesting textures such as lavender, calamint, and sedum. The raised height provides easy accessibility and protection for the plants from trampling by feet and wheels, as well as a seat for parents.

The primary play and secondary active play areas provide GameTime modular play equipment with appropriate climbing, sliding and interaction areas. The brown, green and blue color selections tie into the natural theme and allow children to creatively slide down the waterfalls and splash into the ponds. The difference in colors also provide cues to those with sight and mobility impairments to better determine differences in elevations and changes and materials. A third area provides for swings with a variety of seat options including small bucket seats, belt seats and chair seats for all sizes and abilities. Each of these play areas provide for different levels of play, skill development and social interaction.

GameTime poured and shaped three-inch thick bright blue GTPoured Rubber Surfacing under the play equipment to simulate water and provide a strong contrast to the concrete walk colors. Green lily pads and swimming orange frogs were added to the "ponds."

The primary play area is linked with an elevated walkway designed to resemble a dry riverbed with stamped and stained concrete walk. The pathway winds to the top of a hill which connects with a bridge to the playscape. The pathway is bordered with ornamental grasses which sway in the wind to provide a dry riverbed feel and to assist active kids in keeping visually and physically on the pathway.

"The park is adjacent to wetlands that in the spring are populated by peeper frogs singing their beautiful songs. That became the focus of the theme."--Pam Blough, ASLA

Volunteers were a big part of making Frog Hollow a reality. Students in the Michigan State University Landscape Architecture program participated in the initial site analysis and concept idea development and 30 volunteers assisted in the layout and construction of the play equipment and shelters. Even the kids got into the act. Local school children contributed $4,000 in pennies. And you thought pennies were worthless.

A fourth significant play area provides for more sensory and imaginative interactive play. Elements include an elevated small garden with nontoxic aromatic and textured plants such as lavender and calamint, a wood drum in the shape of a turtle, musical chimes, telescopes, mirror panels and a council circle of large frogs to climb, join in games and socialize. This area provides a unique play area of lower intensity and a play area away from the central activity play areas. All of these play opportunities are offered fully barrier-free to allow for full interaction of all children and adults.

Under the play areas is a blue soft-rubberized safety surfacing that includes floating green lily pads and swimming orange frogs detailed into the surfacing. This surfacing extends accessibility to those with mobility impairments and provides a stimulating visual amenity with frogs swimming under bridges, lily pads to hop on, and pretend water to splash in. The limited number of colors and the use of large images within the surfacing helped to reduce material and installation costs.

Sample concrete panels (ABOVE) were made and tested by the committee for accessibility. The footprints and textured earth were created by pressing molds into the finished concrete and coating the concrete with a darker stain to accentuate the imprints. These test panels allowed for color and texture adjustments in the final walks. A pebbled surface we hoped to use was found too jarring for wheeled vehicles, so the depth of the footprints were diminished to reduce tripping and places that might catch sight or mobility aids.The result is a stamped and colored-concrete footprint walk (BELOW) leading play visitors from the parking lot to the action. Color was added to the fresh concrete and finished. The walk provides a contrasting color and texture to the bituminous parking lot and the blue soft surfacing around the equipment.

Walkway surfaces were designed to accomplish a number of objectives including aid to those with site limitations and to ease mobility. This was accomplished through the use of Lithotex stamped and colored concrete walks with distinct contrasting changes in color and texture for each play area.

Natural earth colors, such as tan, brown, and shades of grey, were selected with fractured earth and stamped animal prints in the surface. These elements provide fun and creativity, while provide distinctive visual cues. Sample panels were first constructed and tested by committee members with future users in mind so that changes could be incorporated into the final walks. Extremely rough or pebbled surfaces were eliminated due to concerns with potential jarring of chair and walker users.

The foreground is the interactive sensory play area with wood turtle drum, frog council circle, and sensory planter. This area also includes telescopes, mirrors and musical chimes. All the play elements and pathways are barrier free.

Additional elements include a shade pavilion with benches at the central hub of the play area. This shade shelter, manufactured by Poligon, has custom cut-metal fish trim and is topped with a frog weathervane. The shelter encourages all persons not engaged in active play to interact within the play area. The shelter acts as a meeting point for families and provides welcomed shade. There is also a picnic pavilion for group outings and picnics. Future plans include a restroom building to be constructed in the fall of 2006.

Custom details, such as these cut metal fish, provide interest on a cost-effective stock Poligon pavilion. The pavilion was capped with a frog weathervane.

The parking lot provides for special bus unloading, additional barrier-free parking spaces and a service dog rest area. Many visitors to this unique park travel with service dogs to aid in both mobility and sight assistance.

Landscape Architect Pam Blough, ASLA enjoys interacting with local kids at the Dreaming and Design party held by the city of Wyoming, Mich. Ideas from the design sessions were incorporated into the final design.

A special "dog potty pole" was constructed adjacent to the barrier free parking to provide an accessible rest area.

ABOVE and BELOW: Frog Hollow at its best--allowing all children to join in the fun.

The wonder of this playground is that children and adults come to play. There are no separations, but seamless play. In less than a year the park has become the focus for school outings, birthday parties and daytime rendezvous. A normal sight on the playground is adults and kids playing together. Not only can children with special needs find interactive play, but adults with special needs can bring active kids to come and play. Grandparents with walkers, parents in wheelchairs, kids with sight limitations, kids in motorized chairs, kids and adults with service animals and active siblings and adults are all up and playing. No one is left in the car or on the bench.

The vision of this play ground was "Frog Hollow, Every Child's Playground." It has truly become the vision it was intended to be.

Project Details

Owner: City of Wyoming Parks and Recreation Department

Landscape Architect: P.M. Blough, Inc.

Construction Project Manager: Skanska USA

Civil Engineer: Exxel Engineering

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December 6, 2019, 12:38 pm PDT

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