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Award of Excellence Winner

Project Name:  Fox River Park Nature Play Area
Location:  Waukesha, Wisconsin
Design Team:  Waukesha County Parks 

Inspired by the book The Last Child in the Woods, and the realization that children are becoming increasingly nature deprived, the Nature Play Area is intended to create a natural resource based play area within Fox River Park.  It is located in a developed area of the park between Reservable Picnic Area 1 and 2.  The presence of this play area has not only increased rentability of the these picnic areas, but provides a naturalized alternative to the typical playground for a unique and potentially educational play experience for the users. 


The existing blank hillside was graded to create an intriguing landscape and accommodate an accessible paved, pedestrian path to allow all users the ability to reach each play node.  The creation of this Nature Play Area on a previously grassy hillside (which was cropland prior to parkland) allows for interaction with nature without adversely affecting the environmental core of the park.     

The activity nodes include a climbing boulder, climbing net, large and small embankment slides, sand play area with water, council ring and several spinners and rockers.  Other features include a butterfly garden and rain garden, grass amphitheater and rolling hills of no mow grass, which even attract sledders and snowboarders in the winter. The site was also graded to accommodate additional nodes to be added in the future.   


The placement of these activity nodes into the topography surrounded by native plantings and boulder outcroppings allows the opportunity for the users to experience elements of nature as they engage in play.  As one follows the winding path from node to node, they experience different views into the natural landscape and panoramic vistas to the hillsides across the Fox River from the top of the large slide and climbing boulder.   


All of the play equipment has safe fall zones with safe play playground surface made of rubber nuggets recycled from old tires.  The play surfaces are drain tiled to keep the fall zones safe from freezing, so safe play can continue into all seasons. The water collected in the drain tiles along with the runoff from the path is directed into a rain garden.  The rain garden is an opportunity for education on the importance of infiltration of stormwater runoff for groundwater recharge.  The frequent presence of just a few inches of water not only attracts dragonflies, waterbug, frogs and tadpoles, but also birds, deer and yes – children!

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