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Rebuilding Fun Forest

by Scott Wiley, Timmons Group

The playground's older children's area includes a dragon, three-way underground telephone, shaky bridge and a dolphin tunnel slide. Toddlers can steer a plane or truck, swing, slide, climb on a shark, a whale and a turtle, or dig for fossils.
Photo courtesy Leathers and Associates

Fun Forest was built in 1996 during a five-day volunteer construction effort involving over 1,600 passionate friends of the park. Leathers and Associates, which specializes in community build playgrounds, lead that effort.

Fun Forest has stood as the city of Chesapeake's model for play and exploration for children of all ages. After arson activity set parts of Fun Forest ablaze, citizens and park users rallied to quickly heal the wounds. Sears, in an effort to get More Green Across America, established a yearly competition nationwide to identify a worthy project to award a $30,000 prize to. Through online voting, Fun Forest was the overwhelming winner and was granted the funding it needed to move forward with the revitalization.

Chesapeake Parks and Recreation Department realized a revisit of the original layout was overdue. Timmons Group's landscape architects volunteered to revisit the overall master plan involving the community, Fun Forest committees and staff. Final recommendations included removal of a small stage, reworking of a central pavilion, a new entrance, and butterfly garden. Phase I was coordinated with Sears and included enhanced safety, a new entry and butterfly garden to be built during a three-day community build in October of 2010.

The Fun Forest playground in Chesapeake City Park, Virginia was recognized by the Virginia Recreation and Parks Society as the "Best New Facility in Virginia" when it opened in 1996. However, in the early morning hours of April 1, 2010, an arsonist set afire a major play structure.

Primarily situated on sandy soils amidst a massive native pine forest, the design needed to bring the overall scale down to a level that pleased both younger and older generations. Splashes of color against a dense forest green background brightens the entrance as user's progress from the parking lot to the front gates. A butterfly garden weaves throughout the gateway to add life and beauty while the pavement beneath reflects a chrysalis. Native plants donated from local nurseries were planted in the ground by volunteers who showed up ready to get their hands dirty and give back to a park that has given so much to them.

The damaged section of the park was closed for approximately one year until fundraising was complete to rebuild the equipment bigger and better. With a staff on hand from Timmons and the help from the city of Chesapeake's Parks and Recreation Department and Sears, the project was an instant success, reviving the livelihood of the park and restoring faith in the community that positive things can happen with a proactive frame of mind.

The Sears More Green Across America funding was on the first phase of the modernizing of Fun Forest. During the spring of 2011 a wildly successful second community build was held to rebuild the playground destroyed by arson. Leathers developed a modern upgrade including ADA accessibility and dynamic slides in the shape of a ship.

Following the arson, local residents and park users quickly rallied to heal
the wounds.
Photos courtesy Timmons Group

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November 13, 2019, 7:38 pm PDT

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