In my former position as a landscape architect for the Town of Cary, North Carolina, I had the pleasure of managing the design and construction of a unique and extensive play space, called Kids Together Playground, which is located in Marla Dorrel Park. The playground is two acres in size, and was completed in 2000. Its defining features include a universally-accessible design, in addition to many natural elements, including plants, sand, rocks, and rolling hills. It includes both active and passive (“discovery”) play zones, as well as separate school-age and preschool-age areas. The park and playground were designed by my friends at Little & Little Landscape Architects in collaboration with Robin Moore, Director of the Natural Learning Initiative, both in Raleigh, NC.
Integrating play opportunities for children of all ability levels was the original goal behind the development of this playground. It consists of many accessible pathways throughout the site, and more than half of the raised decking on the largest play structure can be accessed by wheelchairs via two ramps. A raised, terraced sand table also accommodates wheelchairs, and swings with back support are mixed in with traditional belt swings. Changes in walkway surfacing provide textural cues for the visually impaired at intersections and steps, and plants stimulate the senses of sight, touch, and smell.
Natural elements in this playground are plentiful, and provide many creative play opportunities. There is a large variety of lush plantings, including ornamental grasses, shrubs, trees, groundcovers, and perennials. The plants were chosen to provide a diversity of colors, textures, and fragrances through various seasons, and all are non-toxic. Trees provide shade in this warm climate, and many of the plants offer loose parts for imaginative play. Shrubs and tall grasses also form the boundaries of play spaces, and are perfect for hide-and-seek games. In addition, there are three sand areas in the playground, including a sand “river” that runs under a footbridge, a zone with sand diggers, and the terraced sand table mentioned above. Also, rocks are set into hillsides for climbing and sitting, and grassy slopes are provided for running, rolling, and relaxing.
Playful pieces of original artwork can be found throughout the site. A climbable dragon sculpture emerges from a hillside, and matching benches that flank the entrance area invite kids to talk to each other through winding tubes. Benches with botanical and dragon themes also can be found along several of the walkways.
Kids Together Playground continues to be very popular, since it provides such a wide variety of play opportunities for kids of all abilities. Although traditional climbing, sliding, and swinging structures are included, this playground also offers many settings for creative play, ranging from sand areas and playhouses to winding paths and hills. Plants, however, are the dominant features of this site, and add a tremendous amount of play value and visual appeal.
Photos by Little & Little Landscape Architects, the Town of Cary NC, and Alice Webb