Keyword Site Search

Playgrounds From Retaining Walls:
An Unlikely "Discovery"

By Monica Harrison for Rosetta Hardscapes

Designs for a new universally accessible playground at Jaycee Park in St. Charles, Mo., called for extensive use of precast stone and retaining walls in a variety of uses, including defining the play area, supporting accessibility ramps and a pondless water feature that recalls the Missouri River bluffs.
Photo Credits: SWT Design/Suite D Studio

In 2011, design plans were completed for a playground in St. Charles, Mo., that would allow children of all abilities??"and disabilities??"to play together and have fun. "Discovery Playground" at Jaycee Park is just one of the parks that Unlimited Play, a non-profit organization devoted to accessible playgrounds, has helped build since 2003.

"The concept for Discovery is a play space of adventure around every corner for everyone of all abilities, whether age 1 or 101," said Maralee Britton, Parks and Recreation department director for St. Charles. Accurately capturing the nature of the site was also key to the play area's design. "It was important we use specific landscaping materials to create a feeling of the Missouri River bluffs and the rolling hills found throughout St. Charles," Britton said.


Stacked retaining walls were installed around staircases to blend the transitions to other parts of the play area. The walls also define the entry and exit points of the playspace, easing child supervision for parents.

Designing Beyond ADA
Victoria Schmitt Babb, community engagement director of Unlimited Play, and Ted Spaid, principal and landscape architect of SWT Design, had a unique vision in mind for this park. The goal was to create a destination playground that would be attractive and accessible, with a whimsical Huck Finn feel to spark kids' imaginations and get them in touch with nature.

According to Babb, Unlimited Play uses the guidelines in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a starting point, and goes above and beyond them to build playgrounds that are truly accessible for all children.

"We can design the playground based on the basic tenants of ADA," Spaid said, "but it's really about understanding the spirit of collaboration and creating collaborative points in the playground for all kids to play."

The initial project design included the use of natural stone boulders to outline the playground, but the parks department chose to look elsewhere for a simpler solution that would be easier to install. With these criteria in mind, the choice was clear, Britton said. "Blending the play structures within the hillside using Rosetta stone products for appearance and functionality created a unique play space for many years to come."


Outcropping stone was selected to surround the play area instead of natural boulders, simplifying installation and cutting project costs. Using the precast stone created more area for landscaping and allowed the installation team to easily manage the depth requirements for wall installation.

The revised design called for precast stone from the ???Outcropping' collection to line the playground, retain parts of the hillside, and create a water play area with a natural look reminiscent of the Missouri bluffs.

In addition to the Outcropping stone, the project also included blocks from the ???Irregular Step' collection to help create transitions between play areas. "We needed the playground to be level, but we also had to have gradual slopes because we ramp to every platform we build," Babb said.

"[The precast stone] allowed us to consistently manage the horizontal depth requirements that are often difficult with natural stone," Spaid said. "We were able to put more of the ground area into landscape as a result of that, [and] we wanted to ensure that kids could have alternate routes to get back up to the top level," which the precast stone allowed.


Precast stone from the Rosetta Irregular Step collection was used to install graded ramps that reach the play structure's top platforms for the mobility-challenged (left).

"What really resonated with the team is that precast stone eliminates a lot of the question marks that come with using natural stone," said Midwest Block and Brick's David Mudd, a local manufacturer. "A lot of the variables with natural stone are hard to pin down, but with precast stone, a lot of those are eliminated. It makes it easy to know what you are going to need and how it will go together."


Neil Trautmann, construction supervisor for St. Charles' Parks department, said that although several site adjustments needed to be made around the playground and water play area, "the contractor was still able to get the segmental retaining walls installed quickly."

The official opening and ribbon cutting ceremony took place on October 5, 2012, and "our department is also using Rosetta to improve several other city parks," said Neil Trautmann, who supervised the construction for the Saint Charles Parks & Recreation Department. "We are also doing the installation work using our own parks department staff."

HTML Comment Box is loading comments...

Related Stories

December 6, 2019, 1:14 pm PDT

Website problems, report a bug.
Copyright © 2019 Landscape Communications Inc.
Privacy Policy