Crow’s Nest: New play area

June 22, 2018

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager.

Photo: Daniel Barringer

If you’ve been to Crow’s Nest you may know there is a small play area in a section of woods near the parking lot. There are some logs to climb on, some trails that lead to the creek, and some benches for parents to sit on while kids explore. Mainly this site is used for summer camp activities and allowed to recover for most of the rest of the year.

We also have a corner of a farm field on the other side of French Creek that seemed to lend itself to a play area. It is too shady to be useful for farming, and it’s near the wire bridge that spans Pine Creek, where we go with many of our summer camps.

Since our intern this year, Erin Smith, has a Master’s Degree in Landscape Architecture, I thought I’d ask her to use that expertise to help us develop a play area there. At best I had hoped to implement maybe one feature this year, adding the rest as time allows. But Erin insists that a frustration of Landscape Architecture is planning landscapes but not getting to see them built, so she ran with the project and now much of it is complete.

The giant stumps were already there, log sections from the largest ash on the preserve that was declining and was removed a few years ago. One has a grid carved by chainsaw on top for tic tac toe games.

Erin began by interviewing the kids, parents, volunteers and staff who would be using the site. The parents wanted shade and a table to work with kids who collect natural objects. So Erin built (with help from Building Stewardship’s Luke DiBerardinis) a table that has built-in planters.

A major shrub and wildflower planting (inside a deer fence and known as a habitat island) serves as a buffer between the farm fields and the play area. Assistant Manager Aubrey Smith and our homeschool Nature Club kids helped Erin implement her design, which will attract butterflies and other pollinators to the site. That’s in the background of the photo above.

Top center of the photo is the steel frame of a wigwam, fabricated by Erin Smith and Dave Beck. Dutchman’s pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla) will be trained to grow over it and it will make a snug bower for kids to play in, with entrances on either side.

To round out the kids’ garden (for now) Erin, with help from Steve Holmburg and Scott DiBerardinis installed a low balance beam. The base is made out of rot-resistant black locust that Aubrey donated, the beams are long-lasting white oak. It zig-zags a bit and is fun to traverse either alone, or cooperatively with friends.

Planned future additions to the play area are a tunnel, mulch mountain, and… who knows?

Erin also designed and built some trails that start from the play area and climb up into the woods. You won’t find them on our trail map but are to help kids explore the woods there (photo below).

This week the teen volunteers (older campers and graduates) came for a day to help prepare for camp and they set up the log cabin “kit” that Building Stewardship staff created for us many years ago. It’s been in storage in the barn and the numbered pieces are easy to put together. I don’t know if that will be a permanent part of the play area (it isn’t rot-resistant wood) but it makes a nice little play space.

Camp starts next week so then there will be photos of kids enjoying the garden here!

Photo: Daniel Barringer