A new natural playground at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve is increasing the length of children’s outdoor playtime, says Barbara Stalbird, Natural and Cultural Areas Manager for the city of St. Petersburg. The new playground replaced an older plastic one located at Boyd Hill and has been open since May of this year. Camp groups at the preserve have been enjoying the new playground over the summer, says Stalbird, and it has received positive feedback from both children and parents so far.
So what makes a playground natural exactly? “It’s made out of all wood, which is a lot different than most of the plastic pieces in most of the current playgrounds,” said Stalbird. The structure is made out of sustainably-sourced verbena wood, a hardy wood that is naturally resistant to insects, including wood eating bugs. No finish was needed or applied to the playground. The floor of the playground uses an ADA approved tumbled wood fiber, instead of a typical AstroTurf. Fake grass substitutes are usually made out of nylon or polypropylene with a backing similar to carpeting.
The design and location of the playground also contributes to the structure’s natural feel. “There’s a parkour area, which is a challenge course that wraps around the playground,” said Stalbird. “Kids go from one challenge to the next in a way that’s all connected, which is a little different than a typical playground.”
Other elements of the area include a swing set, balancing structures made of logs, and a basket swing. Stalbird says the playground’s design has increased the amount of time children spend actively playing, as well as increasing group play and cooperation.
“They play a little bit longer. There’s many different ways you can use the playground which keep the kids engaged longer,” she said.
Being outside in a plastic environment is just a little different, Stalbird says. With the new playground, kids can “stay in touch with their natural environment.”
The playground itself is built into what the park refers to as a nature scene, which includes a nearby creek. Although having a body of water near a playground has raised some concerns, Stalbird says the decision was discussed with the city’s risk management department before the fencing around the creek was removed. The team came to a unanimous decision to allow the fencing to be removed, and now Stalbird says it’s a fan favorite of park goers.
“It is is one of the most common areas that we see kids the longest. They even walk into the water.”
The creek is typically at a water height of 3 to 6 inches, or a foot to 18 inches following a major rainfall.
A playground made of the same verbena wood is currently being planned for St. Petersburg’s new pier. The company says the wood on the sets will last for 20 years.
The playground cost around $135,000 and was funded by St. Petersburg’s capital improvements budget. Donations from the Friends of Boyd Hill Nature Preserve group paid for the new swing set. The playground is open the same operating hours as the preserve, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.