Important note: This project was sponsored by the Wee Play Project and Beacon Parks and Rec. Wee Play is still fundraising for this and future phases. Please visit their website to make a donation: http://www.weeplayproject.org
When planning began last winter for the design and build of the Wee Woods, a woodland playground at Beacon’s Memorial Park, the project’s overseers set out with a clear vision of the kind of park they wanted to build, and a guiding philosophy that emphasized the importance of naturalized play in the development and cultivation of young minds. In contrast to the existing tot park to which the new playground sits adjacent, the Wee Woods, as its name suggests, was inspired by an earthly aesthetic, which seeks to utilize the tools which the environment has to offer. In shifting away from the prototypical playground design, which more-or-less dictates to children the ways in which to play, the aim is for a more intuitive experience, leaving the concept of play open to the interpretive imagination of the child. This concept of trading slides and swing-sets for engaging landscapes and woodland features has been shown to foster the creativity of young minds, while also establishing, at a young age, a relationship with, and respect for their environment.
Ground was broken on the park in mid-October, and began with the excavation of the land. This meant preparing holes for the installation of fifty Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) trees, digging a sandpit, and preparing a site at the bottom of the slope for a seven-step stairway, which also functions as an entry-way to the park itself. Looking up at the site from the bottom of the stairs, we envisioned a mulched pathway, bending gently up toward the hilltop, splitting the park as it were, into two sections on either side to be planted with the aforementioned Cottonwood trees. The sandpit, situated just to the left of the path at its beginning, features a shade structure and mulched walkway of its own. Straw bales line the walkway and the attached sandpit, not only to border and retain the mulch within, but also to accommodate Sandbar Willow (Salix alba) live-stakes, which punctuate the bordering straw bales in their entirety, around the path.
Live-stakes are living, however dormant cuttings of trees, whose branches have been trimmed off, and are then stuck into the soil where they will take root and, with any luck, grow into maturity. Typically, they do not require much insulation, but as they were installed just before winter, the added protection the straw bales provide from the elements serves to improve their chances of survival as they lay dormant for the winter months. Our team performed the arduous task of drilling holes through the straw bales into the soil beneath, and driving the stakes into the ground for the desired result of a pathway and sandpit bordered entirely by a uniform line of Willow trees. As the years go by, the Willows will form a canopy above the path, creating a tunnel-like feature that is sure to please the eye, and stir the imagination of the young and old alike.
The staircase-entrance lends a playful accent to the park all its own, with its design and installation lead by our head of construction, Blair Patterson. Using Oak railroad ties for construction, the staircase appears to have been conceived with a healthy dose of juvenility, which belies the exacting professionalism with which it was built. It wobbles and struts, toddler-like, into the park above, where it meets a large Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) tree, which is bordered by retaining walls, also constructed using Oak six-by-six-inch railroad ties. The walls were then backfilled with mulch, surrounding the encapsulated tree, and capped with two-by-twelve-inch wooden planks for shaded seating beneath the Sycamore.
Given the many different types of jobs we take on at One Nature, from residential gardens to publicly-funded parks, there are some projects which can be rewarding for us, the design-builders, as well as for our clients. This multi-faceted undertaking has allowed us at One Nature to teach others, and allowed us as a company, to learn about the different approaches and methods that can be employed in the planning and construction of a public park. We at One Nature feel as though we have accomplished our goal of providing a creative and fun space to be enjoyed by generations to come. With construction completed, and the trees in dormancy for the winter months, we at One Nature now anxiously await the Wee Woods’ opening ceremony, slated for Spring 2018. We hope to see you there for the unveiling of this new addition to Beacon’s growing family of shared spaces and public parks.