Monday, February 28, 2022

Walnut Creek Park Playground

Austin Parks & Recreation Wins TX Recreation & Park Society Award 
for Park Development Innovations at Walnut Creek Park Playground

The Austin Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) won a Park Development Innovations Award for the Walnut Creek Metro Park Playground Revitalization from the Texas Recreation and Park Society in a ceremony on February 17 at the association’s annual institute in College Station. Texas Recreation and Park Society advances the quality of life industry through connections, advocacy, resources and education. This award encourages innovation and acknowledges new ideas in park development by departmental staff.

PARD recently installed its first nature play space in conjunction with a traditional playground replacement at Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park. Bond funding was earmarked for this site at the same time that a grant opportunity with the St. David’s Foundation was announced, allowing the Department to leverage resources and support the Cities Connecting Children to Nature initiative in the creation of the nature play installation.

Located in North Austin, this area of the city is categorized as nature deficient based on the City’s nature equity mapping tool. Utilizing nature-inspired design features, this shared playground space offers visitors the unique opportunity to access both traditional and nature playgrounds in one area so that they can become more familiar with the concept of nature play as it is a relatively new concept in Austin.

The Cities Connecting Children to Nature initiative defines nature play as any type of play that involves the interaction with or use of objects that nature provides. As the first nature play space housed in a city park, the playground at Walnut Creek Metro Park provides an accessible playground for children of all ages and abilities in north Austin to explore their natural environment. The traditional design features a loop exploration path through a sensory garden, rubber safety surface with a variety of ground-level play opportunities, nature-inspired design, and the nature play space with the iconic Fairy Pavilion structure created by credit James Talbot, re-homed from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Fortlandia exhibit as its signature feature.

To activate these new features, PARD partnered with Earth Native Wilderness School to offer free monthly public programming events in the park. Targeting community members from surrounding nature-deficient neighborhoods, these programming days provided bilingual programs to connect residents to nature within their park. The features and programming activate the park with the City’s first ever nature play space, with the goal of increasing both the frequency of park visits and connection to nature.

The design, installation, and ongoing management and activation of this playground space involves a vast stakeholder list including: the Austin Parks and Recreation Planning, Development, and Maintenance Divisions, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Earth Native Wilderness School, Keep Walnut Creek Wild, and Cities Connecting Children to Nature. Funding for the playground revitalization came from the City of Austin’s Capital Improvement Program, the PARD general fund, and the St. David’s Foundation Parks with Purpose grant.

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