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Mastodon Island Adventure - Glacial Drift Playground
Landscape Architecture by RGC Design

Mastodon Island Adventure - Glacial Drift Playground

The Glacial Drift Playground is located on the seven acre Mastodon Island Adventure at the Philips Park site in Aurora, Ill. The 7,400-square-foot play area has a 5-12 age play structure with five tree toppers and three slides. A 4' hill slide with a step access is located on the wall that rises up behind the existing amphitheater connecting to the 5-12 structure access point. The main deck area of the playground is themed as though it were a glacier melting into the surrounding land.

In the 1930s, when men were excavating on an island in Aurora, Ill., they discovered fossils at the bottom of the lake; fossils belonging to ancient Mastodons that roamed nearly 11,000 years ago. In 2013, an idea arose from RGC Design to create an island adventure and bring back the Mastodons of the Ice Age.

From that idea sprung the creation of the Mastodon Island Adventure, in what is now known as Philips Park. While the island's other sites are set to be completed beginning of September, the main play area called Glacial Drift Playground was finished in the spring of 2018. The park environment features walking paths, an interactive mastodon exhibit, and interpretive signs and elements that review the historic mastodon fossil excavation and habitat.

The Start
The project began as a contest for the area back in 2013. Since the discovery of the fossils, the island had not been utilized much until a master plan was developed and then adopted by the city in 2014. The project was given a state grant to create the Mastodon Island Adventure, including a playground with a full size mastodon on-site.

The Main Challenges
There was a major setback when the Illinois governorship changed and a hold was placed on all grants. As a result, the project halted. A year and a half passed and then suddenly the awarded grants were released and given back in 2016. After applying for an extension permit, the island finally went into the construction phase. In that time of waiting and postponement, elements of the design had to change a bit, but still remained close to the original spirit of the design.

Another challenge that caused some delay in the project was the lack of power on the island. A wind turbine was needed to support power for the island and its interactive elements, yet it could not be found. The city provided solar panels to help supply power; the search for a wind turbine has halted for the time being.

Glacial Drift
The play area design focuses on the receding glaciers from the last Ice Age. The play equipment features a 5-12 age structure that ramps up to 5' above the play surface, where kids can step or climb up to higher decks featuring slides, climbers and other play events such as panels and bridges.

Mastodon Island Adventure - Glacial Drift Playground

The island features a full size mastodon. It is over 9aEUR(TM) tall and had to be placed with a crane because it weighs approximately 2,000 pounds. In front is a sign that provides details of the mastodon and includes a sound element.

Mastodon Island Adventure - Glacial Drift Playground

A 2-5 age structure is located south of the main play structure. There are climbers, two slides and a baby mastodon slide.

Freestanding and functionally linked play events that mimic the flora and fauna of the glacial era surround this main play structure in the upper area of the play space. These feature baby mastodons, coniferous trees, logs and other events. The area also includes a freestanding mastodon slide. The swing area has two belt swings, two tot swings and two ADA accessible swings.

Poured-in-place rubber was used not only for safety surfacing but also to mimic melting glaciers. Engineered wood fiber serves as a transition between the rubber surface and the new green landscape.

Fossil Dig Sand Area
One site that has just been completed on the island is the fossil dig sand area. Adjacent to the main playground area, it features life-size replicas of the actual mastodon fossils (femur, rib and tusk) that were excavated on this site in the 1930's. They are buried in the sand where kids can dig and then identify their finds with a nearby sign. At the time of publication, an elevated table with a mastodon tooth was expected to be installed in order to allow for ADA accessible participation.

Bob Collins, founder of RGC Design, expressed his optimism towards the completion of the Mastodon Island stating, "It's going to be a really spectacular recreational amenity for the city and the region."

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January 24, 2020, 3:59 am PDT

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