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Off to See the Wizard of Watkins Regional Park
Wizard of Oz Themed Playground in Maryland

Landscape Architecture by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission


The playground at Watkins Regional Park in Upper Marlboro, Md., was recently given a "Wizard of Oz" themed makeover by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Based on the 1899 novel by L. Frank Baum, children can visit six themed areas: Dorothy's farm house, Munchkin Land, the Emerald Forest, the Emerald City, the hot air balloon escape, and Dorothy's ruby red slippers.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Imagination Playground is located at Watkins Regional Park, an 845-acre park in Upper Marlboro, Md., that is owned and operated by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The woodland setting was a natural for the "Wonderful Wizard of Oz" playground. Its rural character contains features that mimic an Oz-Kansas landscape, such as cornfields, barn structures, farmhouse, and a pond. Music chimes connect children to an artistic/acoustic sense of play.

Programmed events created a very tight window for the design and construction. To meet the challenge, three in-house landscape architects, Brenda Iraola, Chris Colvin and Rene Albacete, collaborated with playground designers at Landscape Structures and their local representatives Sparks at Play to meet the deadline. A previous 35,300 square foot playground on this site exhibited non-ADA compliance, safety issues, and had outlived life-cycle expectancy.


The tall flowers and small 'Cozy Domes' (Landscape Structures) give the illusion of being part of Munchkin Land. For the playground surface, engineered wood fiber was replaced with rubber to provide accessibility, durability, dry conditions, easy maintenance, and colorful graphic storybook images. The play structures were all custom made for ADA compliance.

Maintenance issues included a wet and eroded engineered wood fiber (EWF) play surface, and trees with hollow cores. EWF was replaced with a rubber play surface to provide durability, dry conditions, easy maintenance, and colorful graphic storybook images. New, healthy 25-foot tall red oaks provide a woodland playground setting and shade. Proactive measures were taken to deter vandalism. Park police vandal monitoring was improved by cutting underbrush/invasive species, and providing emergency vehicular access along the Yellow Brick Road entryway. Glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) and steel play equipment were selected for vandal resistance and durability, including hand-painted ruby red shoe slides and farm animals. The new playground was reduced to 14,400 square feet to maintain the budget and lower environmental stress on surrounding trees. The efficient design resulted in expanding the height of the equipment, which doubled capacity from previous 200 children to 450 children.


The 14,400 square foot playground is located at the center of the 845-acre park, which also includes several trails, picnic areas, campgrounds, and sports fields.

The Watkins Regional Park playground theme is based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum in 1899. This playground immerses children in the classic storybook through a literacy play environment. The playground has six "Oz" play areas: Dorothy's Farm House, Munchkin Land, Emerald Forest, Emerald City of Oz, Balloon Escape, and Ruby Red Shoes. Entering the playground, the Scarecrow storybook character sign shows two paths to choose from, either following the Yellow Brick Road or clicking your heels through the ruby red shoes. A 24-foot rainbow arch casts colorful patterns on the glittery Yellow Brick Road entry. Toto's doghouse roof has colorful dog bones, which serve as climbing grips and help teach children rainbow color names. Farming becomes fun at Aunt Em's crooked farmhouse with cornfield talk tubes, farm spring animal rides, garden flower roller slide, big red barn, tall silo red slide, chicken coop, big green play tractor, and the Wicked Witch trapped underneath the house. The existing mature woodland was a perfect setting for the Emerald Forest, which has flying monkeys, climbing ropes, and a forest play area. The Emerald City has climbing towers, balcony overlooks, bubble view windows, and scientific gizmo panels used by "Oz," the great and powerful wizard. Three hot-air balloon structures await children for a pretend ride home. Most impressive are Dorothy's magical Ruby Red Shoes, a pair of giant 6-foot slides custom designed with a glitter surface. Custom accessible equipment was specifically designed for this playground so children can easily navigate the Emerald Castle ramps and ground-level play equipment.


The Yellow Brick Road is painted onto the asphalt path and coated with wet-look sealer and glitter. By following the Yellow Brick Road, children and families can go from Oz to the rest of the park.

Diligent measures were taken to save trees during the design phase. The accessible play surface was redesigned with a drainage system to allow water and air for existing tree roots. Native Eastern redbuds (Cercis canadensis), red oaks (Quercus rubra), and white dogwoods (Cornus florida) were planted. The entry landscape has tall stalks of corn plants, and Aunt Em's farm garden includes pink Echinacea and coral-bells, lavender-blue balloon flowers, red daylily, white Shasta daisy, and blue/pink hydrangea flowers. In addition, the "Yellow Brick Road" walkway has yellow black-eyed Susan flowers and wheat-like ornamental grass.


Dorothy's magical pair of glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) Ruby Red Shoes is a set of giant 6-foot slides custom designed with a glitter surface. In the background, three big hot-air balloon play structures await children for a pretend ride home to Kansas. To the left of the hot air balloons is a set of woodland music chimes (Freenotes) that connect children to an artistic/acoustic sense of play.

Leaving the playground, users can ride an accessible carousel from the early 1900s or hop on the miniature train to the Old Maryland Farm. Guests can also explore the nature center and its wildlife exhibits, hike on one of the park's several trails, go camping, or play mini golf, baseball, or tennis.


Plant Selection

Project Team:
Brenda Iraola, M-NCPPC Landscape
Architecture Supervisor
Chris Colvin, M-NCPPC Landscape Architect
Rene M. Albacete, M-NCPPC Landscape Architect
Hunt Valley Contractors
Landscape Structures

As seen in LASN magazine, March 2017.

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April 25, 2019, 1:38 am PDT

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