Oxbow Regional Park is all about nature and playfulness – but, for now, those are two separate things.
One of the Oxbow’s two playgrounds was removed a few years ago. Today, kids gravitate to this remaining, old-fashioned playground rather than venturing into the ancient forest. And that playground is slated for removal soon, as the banks of the Sandy River are shifting and the river comes ever closer to sweeping it away.
An innovative new project pulls together Oxbow’s two drawing cards, creating “adventure base camps” that guide children and their families to nature play areas throughout the 1,100-acre park.
This vision will be on the ground in 2016, thanks to a new $167,500 grant from Oregon State Parks to supplement $225,000 from the region’s voter-approved parks and natural areas levy. The project ranked No. 1 among grant applications for the state’s Land and Water Conservation Fund – a first for Metro.
Rod Wojtanik, senior parks planner for Metro puts it this way: “It may have been normal 30 years ago for kids to run freely through natural areas, forests, and along rivers, but today it seems that kids rarely venture from the day use areas and campgrounds. We want to change that. With this grant we will be able to build areas to explore off-trail, unstructured, free play where kids and families can connect more deeply with nature, while knowing that they are in a safe environment.”
Adventure base camps will give families the tools to explore specific parts Oxbow. Guided by maps and signage along trails, young adventurers will see centuries-old cedar trees in the ancient forest, hike to flood plains, spot salmon and beaver, and learn about animal signs and tracking.
Along the way, they’ll find places designed to play off the trail and discover new natural play areas. Unlike traditional parks with slides and swings, these playgrounds will replicate a river and unveil a “buried forest.” By playing with sand and water, kids will learn about the natural world – how water moves, carries and deposits sediments, for example.
“We want to connect kids to nature,” Wojtanik says. “Playing in nature plants the seeds of stewardship so that there are people to care for nature in generations to come. If they don’t play in it, how will they learn to love it? How will they learn to value it?”