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Newly designed Nokomis Playground is imaginative fun for kids

Posted on 29 August 2017 by calvin

After a year and a half of public hearings, planning and construction, the children’s playground next to the Lake Nokomis Community Center had its official grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony July 28. Kids, from toddlers and up, came with their parents to try out the newly designed playground equipment. The party included free snacks and glitter tattoos from Kristine Thesing from Funtime Funktions.

Park Board Commissioner Stephanie Musich and Minneapolis Park Board project manager Beth Pfeifer were there to officially cut the ribbon and open the new area, handing out pieces of the official ribbon for the kids to take home as souvenirs.

Highland Playground Opening 02Photo right: “The park board has made significant investments in our neighborhood, and we couldn’t be more thrilled,” said Nokomis East Neighborhood Association Board President Mike Ferrin. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

The original playground was designed and opened to the public in 1935. During the next 82 years, the area has seen many changes and had been updated several times.

The Park Board had surveyed about 250 residents, mostly in the Nokomis and Hiawatha neighborhoods, both online and at events like September’s Monarch Festival and at preschools and PTA meetings, to see what was needed. The results showed that neighbors were looking for new and imaginative modern style playground pieces, but wanted to keep some of the more popular (and classic) pieces.

So, along with the new 21st-century playground design, members of the public insisted that some of the oldest and most popular pieces be reincorporated and remain at the park.

Highland Playground Opening 03Photo left: Four-year-old Faye Saybolt goes down the big slide at the Nokomis Community Center playground, a feature that residents recall having been there in the past and asked for again, according to project manager Beth Pfeifer. “It’s amazing,” said Faye’s mother, Jennifer Saybolt, who lives near the lake. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

The old-style metal slides, the chin-up bars, and sand diggers are still there, with a few rehabilitated pieces that no longer conformed to current safety standards. But now, new and imaginative pieces and newly built areas have been created for kids of different age-groups, from babies to pre-teens. Some of the pieces are accessible to children with disabilities.

There are two baby swings and a set of smaller swings and slides for the younger children. Older kids can take advantage of the new full-sized swings and a high slide, with concrete pillars (suitable for climbing) surrounding the area.

Workers had finished the installation only the day before, with the new wood chips and newly sewn grass protected, for the time being, by temporary fences. But, fences didn’t stop kids from climbing on the rocket ship or the abstract tree. Even before the official opening, kids were already swinging on the swings or balancing on the balance boards.

Highland Playground Opening 01 sliderPhoto right: Slides, climbing poles, and other play equipment were built on a topography inspired by the natural world. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

Musich said that playgrounds like this one are a vital part of the park community. “So many kids in the urban environment don’t have the opportunities to interact with nature on a tactile basis. That’s why so many people shared the excitement,” she said.

Luke Schmidt and his daughter Maddie came to try out the turtle swing, an original from before the restoration and one of Maggie’s favorites. They had been surveyed last autumn at the Monarch Festival and had made their preferences for what they wanted to see in the new the park, known.

“I voted for the turtle,” said Maddie. “I voted for shady seats,” said her dad.

Highland Playground Opening 04Photo left: Parks Commissioner Steffanie Musich is most excited by the natural play area to the south of the new playground equipment. It is the first like it in Minneapolis and will provide an example of how to do this elsewhere. “So many kids in an urban environment don’t have the opportunity to get comfortable with nature in a tactile way.” (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

“People like the way the old playground was spread out,” said Pfeifer. “They also loved the nature play area, which was originally meant to be temporary. We worked with the forestry department for that, and all the materials for that are from the park.”

Nokomis Playground is also the new home of the Willow Thicket, a natural dome structure, moved from the Lake Harriet Rose Garden and installed at the center of the playground.

The money for the project, $300,000, had been approved by the city in 2015, paid for with net debt bonds. The Park Board hired designer Chris DesRoches, who specializes in children’s playgrounds. He said that when he designs equipment, he tries to see the playground through kid’s eyes. He wants them to say, ‘Hey, this is cool,’ he said.

Much of the park is what DesRoches calls ‘abstract nature.’ “We’re replicating themes from nature, with natural concepts and forms, hills and topography,” he said.

One section features real sticks and logs, with natural topography and grading. “It’s a key part of the play area,” DesRoches said and hopes it will spark imaginative play.

“I like to offer kids opportunities for free play,” he said. “Kids can play tag or play on the rocket ship. This playground represents what the community wanted. People wanted a big slide, and people wanted it to be inspired by nature. So, we built that. The kids seem to like it.”

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