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Tacoma Nature Center's Discovery Pond

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Any child who has lived near a creek has spent many hours building dams and generally getting wet and muddy. Some of our planned communities have denatured nature to the extent we find ourselves building simulated pieces of nature. The Nature Exploration area at the Tacoma Nature Center recreates a miniature Snake Lake environment focused around a shallow, recirculating water feature.

"You may hear the honking of Canada geese and the peculiar twitter of the wood duck as you explore this 70-acre wetland habitat. Tread carefully and you might catch sight of a red fox, raccoon, great blue heron or other wildlife."

Such is the engaging description of the Tacoma Nature Center by Metro Parks Tacoma. This nature area sports more than two miles of trails through a lake and forested wetland area in the heart of Tacoma, a city on Washington's Puget Sound, 32 miles southwest of Seattle.

The Tacoma Nature Center conducts year-round environmental classes to give people a better understanding of the nature on site.

Given the nature on display in the park, a nature-themed play area was a logical extension for parkland activity. The park owner, Metro Parks Tacoma, and the Tahoma Audubon Society, envisioned a new play area as a place where children who visit the park and enroll in Nature Center courses could supplement experiences and education through tactile play and exploration of the natural environment.

After completing a master plan for the entire park, J.A. Brennan Associates, PLLC provided conceptual design and construction documents for the Nature Exploration area, which is now named Discovery Pond.

Discovery Pond is a nontraditional playground that enables children to, well, just play in nature, like kids have always done before we put them in suburban settings and segregated them from nature. The pond allows the children to play, touch and explore the natural materials. There's also educational signage.

One highlight of Discovery Pond is something that generations of children in rural areas took for granted: a hand-operated water pump.

Thematically, the Nature Exploration area recreates a miniature Snake Lake environment (the lake is the centerpiece of the park) focused around a shallow, recirculating water feature intended to simulate Snake Lake. The design includes a recirculating water feature with a bacterially-filtered pond system manufactured by Meyer Aquascapes, Inc. Two-log supported bridges cross the shallow water feature.

The highlight of the pond for the children is something that generations of children in rural areas have been accustomed to: a hand-operated water pump. While this water pump is drawing water from a city water line and not from a well, for Tacoma area kids today used to such modern technological marvels as instant messaging and other needs immediately fulfilled (e.g., fast food), the old technology of pumping water out of the ground seems pretty cool. The pumped water flows through lined sand and gravel beds, where of course the kids can get their hands wet and even dirty!

Custom designed shotcrete creations include a climbable snag (a "tree" embedded in a stream bed, a downed hollow log to crawl through, a log slide and mud bank cave.

Rain Gardens Adjacent to the Pond Supplement Pond Overflow and Site Drainage.
The majority of the exploration features were custom-designed by J.A. Brennan and manufactured on-site by shotcrete artisans from Turnstone Construction, Inc. The elements consist of flexible rebar cages that support the shotcrete applications. Paint, textures, and detailed applications such as mushrooms and lichens give an authentic appearance of the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Shotcrete creations include a climbable snag, a downed hollow log that can be crawled through, a log slide and mud bank cave.

A tree house, manufactured by Cre8Play, complements the on-site built shotcrete features, as does the climbing rock by Park Pets & Boulders. Discovery Pond was successfully designed and built to be ADA accessible and meet ANSI standards for playground safety. The park includes a half-mile outdoor access route for wheelchairs.


About the Firm
J.A. Brennan is a Seattle landscape architecture and planning firm recognized for its award-winning waterfront, park, and habitat restoration work.

Tacoma Nature Center Team
Client: Metro Parks Tacoma
Landscape Architect: J.A. Brennan Associates, PLLC
Contractor: L.W. Sundstrom, Inc.

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November 22, 2019, 1:02 pm PDT

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