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Natural Play Emphasis for Briercrest Park

Landscape Architecture by Schmidt Design Group, San Diego

The only traditional play element in Briercrest Park in La Mesa, California is the powder-coated pine green 'Arch Swings' (Landscape Structures). The resilient rubberized safety surfacing (Surface America) combines a 40 percent light blue color with a 60 percent dark blue. The frog and gecko climbers are from Park Pets and Boulders.
Photos: Schmidt Design Group

La Mesa, California (pop. 57,000) is an incorporated city just east of San Diego. The city developed unique public/private partnerships with the Grossmont Health Care District and the La Mesa Park and Recreation Foundation to move a youth football field from Briercrest Park to a new large-scale athletic complex.

This allowed Briercrest Park to be developed as more of a passive park. The city then sold a portion of the site to the Health Care District for a medical library; another parcel was planned for lease as a senior housing project.

Leaves of wetland plants are etched into the stone seat walls.
Photo by John Durant

In addition to funds raised by the land sale, based on the environmental stewardship and heath care related park theme, La Mesa secured more than one million dollars in grants for construction. These capital funds and agreements with the Health Care District helped fund long-term maintenance and security for the park, which created a great opportunity for the design team to create a special park.

Schmidt Design Group of San Diego designed this 4.2-acre park with an emphasis on natural play, water harvesting, sustainable design and to give seniors and the physically challenged a variety of opportunities to explore and enjoy outdoor recreation and fitness.

Renowned artists James and Drew Hubbell (Hubbell & Hubbell) collaborated with the design team to add whimsical and artful detailing, even including an interesting and beautiful restroom building.

Hubbell & Hubbell created this small tile mosaic labyrinth in the play area.
Photo: Schmidt Design Group

The park is adjacent to the Grossmont Healthcare District Library and Conference Center, and so serves as a healing environment for those in need of reflection and nurturing.

At the center of the park the landscape takes on sculptural form and leads people down to a small "wetland" environment. Mounds create a ripple-like effect around the central wetland.

All drainage in the park is routed into decorative, dry "streambed channels," and then into the wetland, which has standing water for a short time after rains. The streambed channels are actually bioswales, which give character to the park.

Schmidt Design Group worked closely with Hubbell & Hubbell to weave public art elements into the park. This restroom building is not typical, given its tile mosaics and stained glass.

Footbridges over the streambeds are made from sustainably-harvested Ipe wood, which add character and charm. The park has other "green" elements, such as a plant palette almost exclusively comprised of California natives and state-of-the-art materials that are environmentally sustainable.

A perimeter walkway within the park leads visitors to a number of specialty gardens: a sound garden, butterfly garden, herb garden and sensory garden. Mosaic tiles by Hubbell & Hubbell add artful detailing. For example, a mosaic butterfly adorns the plaza where plantings have been added to attract butterflies. Mosaic tiles also add unique detailing to the park monument sign. The Hubbells created a small labyrinth-like plaza near the children's play area. The restroom building's mosaic tile detailing and small stained glass windows make the structure unique.

Sustainably-harvested IPE wood footbridges over the streambeds adds character and charm. Decorative pole-mounted fixtures (Se'lux) in an 'Umbra' grey finish keep the park well illuminated after hours.

It has been well documented that exposure to nature provides great health benefits. Briercrest Park embraces this idea as a place where visitors can connect with our natural world, to explore and enjoy a quiet retreat from urban life.

Briercrest Park emphasizes "natural play" with exploration as the themes. Mounded lawn areas, boulders, dry creeks and a "wetland basin" offer visitors a more organic experience.

Mounded lawns (tall fescue, heat-tolerant bluegrass blend), boulders, dry creeks and a "wetland basin" offer visitors a more organic experience.

A set of swings is the only traditional play structure in the park. The dry streambeds provide stormwater management and water quality enhancement, but they are also a significant part of the play value in the park. Children are often seen exploring the wetland looking for frogs or in the streambeds wandering along the cobble and peering under bridges.

A large climbing wall and park pets continue the less traditional play with frog and gecko climbing structures. The music garden next to the playground is also a popular area for children.

Handicap accessible pathways lead to the central wetland, which although frequently damp, is often without open water and can be explored. The park design encourages "natural" play.
Photo: Schmidt Design Group

The park was designed with mostly low-water use native and naturalized plant materials. Sedges and other plants, tolerant of inundation, are featured in the dry creek beds and wetland area. The native plants contribute to the natural ambiance and the natural play character of the park.

Park drainage is routed into decorative, dry streambed channels, then into the wetland. The "streambed channels" are essentially bioswales.
Photo: Schmidt Design Group

Briercrest Park has received several awards, including a Merit Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects, San Diego chapter, a Project of the Year award from the American Public Works Association and an Orchid from the San Diego Architectural Foundation.

Natural climbers border the wetland. KRC Rock delivered and placed the boulders. After rainstorms, the water percolates within 72 hours.
Photo by John Durant

About the Firm
Founded in 1983, Schmidt Design Group is headquartered in San Diego, with a satellite office in Northern California. The firm provides landscape architectural and planning design services for a variety of public and private clientele throughout the Western U.S. Their landscape architects are licensed in California, Arizona and Nevada. The firm combines an emphasis of balancing artistic expression in design with a major emphasis on environmental sensitivity. Schmidt Design has received more than 75 local, state and national awards for design excellence and technical competence.

The instruments in the sound garden are from Freenotes.


Briercrest Park Vendors

  • Amazing Recycled Products: Recycled Plastic Rail Fence
  • Bega: Decorative Recessed Step Lighting Fixtures (in concrete niche) with Guard
  • Dumor: 5-Loop Bike Racks
  • Gail Materials: Stabilized DG, 'California Gold'
  • Hydrel: In-Grade Adjustable Uplights
  • J.D. Russel Co. (DURAEDGE): Metal Edging
  • Kenall Millennium: Semi-Recessed Ceiling Lights, Vandal Resistant Fixture w/Full-Face Diffuser
  • KRC Rock
  • Landscape Forms: 'Gretchen' Benches, IPE Wood; 'Arcata' Backed-Style Benches; 'Arcata' Backless Benches, Embedded; 'Gretchen' 30-Gallon Top Opening, Surface-Mount Litter Receptacles
  • Landscape Structures: Arch Swings
  • Lithonia: Fluorescent Strip Ceiling Lighting Fixtures w/Wireguard
  • Omegalux: Surface-mounted, Adjustable Wall Lighting, Wet Listed Fixtures, Mounted on Trellis
  • Park Pets and Boulders: Frog/Gecko Climbers
  • Se'lux: Decorative Pole-Mounted Fixtures
  • Surface America: Resilient Rubberized Surfacing
  • Trex Recycled Lumber: 1x4 Wood Headers

One of the most intriguing artistic elements by Hubbell & Hubbell is this mosaic at the butterfly garden.
Photo by John Durant.

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November 18, 2019, 10:49 am PDT

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