Natural playgrounds and natural playscapes are a part of a growing, worldwide movement. These spaces include natural features such as water, sand, wood, and living plants.
This young man tossed several pieces of quartz into the wishing well at James River State Park's Discovery Area.
Simple elements such as unusually shaped logs or a stump ‘wishing well’ are placed along a path to inspire and encourage children to interact with their surroundings. Some areas can be inviting gardens with simple features such as elevated stepping stones, others include climbing walls or wooden structures almost like jungle gyms.
Despite the similarities, natural playscapes are not playgrounds. At least, not as most modern Americans have come to define them. These areas serve a dual purpose: they entertain children, and they teach them to reengage with nature and their imaginations.
This is the very first guest to visit James River's Discovery Area! Here he's trying out the new balancing stumps and log.
The idea for a natural playscape at James River State Park was the result of research and work done by Park Ranger Scott Passwaters. Passwaters is the father of two small children and was frustrated by the extravagant price of a traditional playground. Currently the park is fundraising for a playground, but the cost has been the sole reason that the park remains without one.
Passwaters saw how simple natural objects amused and engaged his kids every day. After researching the topic, he presented the idea to Park Manager Mark Schuppin and the park staff. Everyone was excited by the idea and the staff took a trip to Boxerwood Nature Centerin Lexington to see a working example. The staff at Boxerwood was extremely helpful and gave several good pointers on planning and maintenance of a natural playscape.
This spring construction of the discovery area at James River State Park has really taken off. Most materials and labor for the project were obtained through volunteers. Park Ranger Joanne Absher, volunteer coordinator for the park, lined up local donors for material.
Hut/wigwam/dome is made of Black Willow and wild grape vines and can support the weight of a person! This was a DeSales University collaborative effort.
Absher also coordinated volunteer work crews ranging from the American Hiking Society to alternative spring break groups. A full list of volunteers will be placed at the Discovery Area entrance to acknowledge those who have contributed to its creation.
The area is expected to open as soon as construction is complete; in late May to early June.
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For general park information click here, contact the park office at 434-933-4395 or e-mail James River State Park.
James River State Park is located at 751 Park Road, Gladstone, VA 24553. From U.S. 60 West, turn right onto Route 605 (Riverside Dr.) at the James River Bridge. Travel seven miles, then turn left onto Route 606.
Overnight reservations can also be made by calling 1-800-933-PARK (7275) or by booking on line.