In our May issue of Outside Matters, we asked readers to tell us what features their dream park of the future would offer. We received great responses, like this one from Robin Dechert Schachat of Shaker Heights, Ohio:
Nature play areas where kids do not need to be tidy—water to splash in; earth, plants, trees, and rocks to climb around and explore; frogs, birds, insects, and living animals making sounds and living their lives to teach and amaze.
Other common criteria: accessibility, solar-powered lights, gathering places for outdoor community events and volunteers, understory ephemerals (short-life-cycle plants that grow at the base of trees), native plants and wildlife, and exercise equipment.
Good news for our readers: TPL parks and projects around the country, including those below, already deliver on our readers’ wish lists. With support from donors like you, there can be plenty more where these came from.
CLIMB AND EXPLORE
Why yes, that is a giant crayfish, thank you for asking. It’s just one of the many interactive and locally inspired activities for kids of all ages at Lynn Haven Bayou Park.
Photo: Jack Gardner
Love it or hate it, the term “Hotlanta” can feel pretty accurate in the summer months. So when the Historic Fourth Ward Park opened in 2010 with a state-of-the-art water-themed play area, it was an instant hit with kids and parents. But that’s not all that made the 17-acre park a splash; it also manages stormwater with a retention pond, fountain, and waterfall feature that help prevent chronic flooding that once plagued the area.
Photo: Christopher T. Martin
PLANTS AND TREES
For the children of the Klamath Tribes, which were stripped of recognition by the U.S. government in the 1950s, culture, heritage, and language have faded with each generation. When the Chiloquin community invited TPL to help create a schoolyard that would honor and revive the tribes’ history, we were honored. The new Chiloquin Elementary Schoolyard features plants and trees that were traditionally gathered by native peoples in this region, along with signs and audio recordings in English and Klamath that explain the plants’ significance and their harvest cycles.
Photo: Spayne Martinez
LISTEN, LEARN, BE AMAZED
Just hearing the story of how the once-forgotten Kānewai Spring was restored is amazing, but seeing and fishing its crystal blue water to remove invasive fish helps local children learn firsthand how to steward this sacred Hawaiian resource. Maunalua Fishpond Heritage Center teaches kids’ groups how to catch invasive fishes and pull invasive plants in order to maintain the spring. They also learn about the ahupuaʻa system and how the spring connects to the larger Maunalua estuary.
Photo: Meagan Suzuki
It’s easy to say that the outdoors is for all, but making it so takes intention and thoughtful, inclusive, universal design like the sort you’ll find at Panorama Park. The Quiet Nook offers people with sensory sensitivity a peaceful spot to take a break from the noise. In fact, the whole playground complies with the American Disabilities Act, and special attention was given to features designed for children with autism and people with mobility challenges. Children climb and play on a rope structure on a sunny day at Panorama Park.
Photo: Olivedia Productions
Imagine waking up every morning to the panoramic view that inspired Katharine Lee Bates’s “purple mountains majesties.” Imagine seeing the evening sky ablaze with orange and red hues as the sun sets behind the peaks. Imagine living your whole life in a state known for its outdoor splendor but never experiencing it. That was the reality for many residents of Denver’s Montbello neighborhood until Montbello Open Space Park opened in 2021, giving kids and their families the opportunity to connect—for the first time—with the Colorado outdoors by climbing on logs and boulders, walking through native tallgrass prairies, and splashing in a stream, all within a few minutes of home. Chris Urias, a one-time ELK participant and current TPL CORE Fellow sits on the stone stairs in a park that he helped to design.
Photo: Abigail Lafleur-Shaffer
EXERCISE EQUIPMENT FOR KIDS AND ADULTS
Rocky Graham Park is the only outdoor recreation space in Marin City, which is home to more than 3,000 people. When the community redesigned the park, they envisioned a tree-house-themed play structure where exercise masquerades as play for kids. They also added an adult fitness area, so big kids can get their sweat on too.
Photo: Marin City Community Services District
WI-FI AND SOLAR POWER
Two of three new parks along Dallas’s Five Mile Creek Greenbelt that were designed in close collaboration with residents will include outdoor classrooms equipped with a pavilion, free Wi-Fi, and solar-powered lighting.
The 3,567 Highland Hills residents who live within a 10-minute walk of Judge Charles R. Rose Community Park will have a place to exercise and breathe fresh air. The first stage features an outdoor classroom and views of downtown Dallas.
Photo: Jason Flowers.
FROGS, BIRDS, INSECTS
Many of our readers told us their ideal future park would preserve endangered native plants and wildlife. According to the UCLA Institute of the Environment & Sustainability, in 2018 there were only an estimated 3,000 willow flycatchers left in existence, most of them in the Southwest. Our Verde River project in Arizona aims to change that, with habitat for several endangered species, including the willow flycatcher. Lots of aquatic and terrestrial critters tempt kiddos, who will be able to explore the area when a cool multilevel trail network is completed as part of a recreation master plan.
Photo: Chris Hinkle
All of these places—and many more—are protected thanks to Trust for Public Land supporters. Join us in our mission to bring the profound benefits of equitable access to the outdoors to millions of people across America.
Deborah Williams is Trust for Public Land’s editorial director. She is also the mother of two avid park and playground aficionados, ages 10 and 2, who look forward to exploring all of these futuristic places as soon as possible.