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The Nature Playground at Frisco Lake Park
A Nature Based Playground in Kansas

by Lisa Donnelly, PLA, Parks Project Planner, City of Olathe

The Nature Playground at Frisco Lake Park

Surrounded by trees, the playground at Frisco Lake Park in Olathe, Kan., utilizes natural elements to blend in with the adjacent environment.

In Spring 2018, the City of Olathe, Kansas completed a small but unique playground renovation at Frisco Lake Park. Established in 1974, the 38-acre community park features a peaceful, natural setting and is located just south of downtown Olathe.

When the existing traditional post and platform playground needed replacement, Lisa Donnelly, the city's landscape architect, worked on designing a thoughtful nature-based playground with excellent play value for children to complement and draw attention to the natural scenery. Research shows that nature-based play helps boost children's mental and physical health, creativity and cooperation, and decreases anxiety and depression. By helping children connect with nature at the playground, the city of Olathe hopes to inspire the next generation with a genuine appreciation of the outdoors and encourage an understanding of the natural world.

To help children learn and grow through play, this playground features an accessible swing meant for several children at one time, a hillside slide with natural stone steps that were re-used from another park site, musical instruments, a natural sand pit, and nature-based rock and tree climbing features on an artificial turf safety surfacing that blends the playground into the surrounding environment.

The Nature Playground at Frisco Lake Park

Climbing structures from ID Sculptures and a hillside slide accessed by natural boulder step stones offer nature-based play opportunities.

The Nature Playground at Frisco Lake Park

With musical instruments from Percussion Play and an adjacent shelter for community gatherings, the nature-based playground offers a variety of play options for park users.

When children have opportunities for free and unstructured play in the outdoors, they are smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier. The open design of the playground at Frisco Lake Park encourages creativity and builds cognitive skills by allowing children to think about what they want to do and what they can do to make it happen. Because the playground offers a neutral, natural backdrop, children at the Frisco Lake Playground can adapt their play according to their ideas, which can be different each time they visit the park. The playground also encourages interaction among children with play equipment (such as the Cloud 9 swing and the sand pit) and musical instruments that encourage use by multiple children at the same time.

Since the existing playground was set within a group of mature trees, the new playground was designed around those trees and utilizes the shade they provide to create a comfortable environment both for children at play and for their caregivers. The new footprint did require the city of Olathe's arborists to move one tree, which was relocated on site rather than being cut down.

The city of Olathe worked with local playground representative ABCreative to select the specific playground equipment and surfacing. A combination of equipment from ID Sculptures, Berliner, Burke and Percussion Play rounded out the project, with artificial turf surfacing by ForeverLawn. ABCreative was hired to complete the installation.

The Nature Playground at Frisco Lake Park

Nestled among existing trees, a Frisco Lake Park features ForeverLawn artificial turf that blends in with the surrounding environment, as well as the nature-based play structures.

The construction of the playground was a true team effort. In addition to the construction team from ABCreative, during the design and construction process, the city of Olathe's Certified Playground Safety Inspector was tapped to review design drawings and make suggestions to further enhance safety. The city's construction crew assisted with concrete installation, obtained the boulders and sand to create the sand pit, and installed benches for seating around the playground. The city's team of horticulturists established the sod and plantings at the playground.

The new playground is directly adjacent to a group picnic shelter, and the existing park also includes a nearly 1-mile paved walking path around the lake featuring outdoor fitness equipment, areas for fishing and a waterside gazebo.

While the playground is a new amenity in Olathe's park system, it has already been very well used and well-received by residents of Olathe and surrounding communities. The new playground has enhanced the park even further and drawn families into the outdoors, helping children enjoy and appreciate not only the playground but also the natural environment that surrounds it.

As seen in LASN magazine, January 2019.

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August 24, 2019, 2:56 am PDT

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