Saturday, May 21, 2016

Russ Nature Preserve Playscape!

I LOVE natural playscapes--they are definitely a happy space for me! Add kids and a little energy and stumps and logs become magical! I found a blog post about this space while looking for natural play spaces in the great area around Dayton, Ohio. We had fun at several places, such as the US Air Force Museum, Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, and the Children's Discovery Garden in Dayton. My husband was in town for Hamvention--a gathering of ham radio operators from all over the place. We tagged along for the hotel, pool, free breakfast, and new places to visit. While the other places were cool, the Natural Playscape at Russ Nature Preserve was my favorite! If you are in the Michiana area, it took us about 3.5 to 4 hours to drive there. It was a nice little get away!

Beyond the welcome sign to the area, there were no signs, instructions, rules, etc. beyond the invitations to play and explore. There were several of the ropes similar to this below. Some were tied around the tree with the ends secured and duct tape over them. Others were bolted into a dead tree and secured in a similar manner. 

There were chairs and simple benches throughout the space. It's a nice place to relax and contemplate the woods. While the children were mostly interested in playing, they would stop from time to time to share their discoveries, such as a worm, fungus, etc. We even spotted a pileated woodpecker! Seeing the bird fly showed how large it truly is! Beautiful! We catch them out our back windows from time to time. Lovely! 

Simple see saws were scattered throughout the space--just a long branch perfectly draped over a bigger log. 

Loved this simple tunnel! This would be an easy peasy addition to any outdoor space. I talked to one of the key volunteers (and lovely lady with a lot of heart and passion for the place). She mentioned they had moved a tunnel like this to a new feature, but people loved it so much they had to add another! The teepee was also a great spot. There were a few branches nearby to add to the mix. It looked like there were some wooden supports nailed neat the top of the structure to give support to the branches that were placed there. 

Simple balance beams were scattered about. These were a different challenge than the larger logs. It was a little slick out due to a recent rain, so we did talk about the different challenges of slippery spots .

The log cabin was perfect! 

The simple tires made a great place to climb through. Buried part way makes them more stable. 

This large log was specially curated (it seemed) for its curve and wedged right in between living trees for support. There was a small rope swing underneath. 

The log on top was perfect for climbing, with steps right up to it if needed. I watched a lot of balance on this! Had to check out the mushrooms! 

I loved this simple structure! It was so adaptable to various levels of ability. My older children and younger children all found the appropriate risk they needed! They could choose and self select between the many options for developmentally appropriate activities. 

More ropes and simple balance beams! Room for two! 

I LOVED watching the boy in front balance and negotiate the risk as he made his way across this log. I could tell he was being careful, slowing down when needed, and working on balancing skills. He is building resiliency and problem solving skills through outdoor play. 

More downed trees! Great places to balance. The one in the back mentioned this one was a little "squishy", showing the natural decay that happens over time.

This was just a pile of logs and brush, probably not intended for climbing; however, since there were no signs, I didn't stop the kids as I was comfortable with them on it. They have proven themselves on places like this. Their favorite part of the yard is the log pile! Simple thinner tree cookies, made a place to hop from one place to another. Perfect for the younger boy as he hopped (or tried!) from circle to circle! 

A little risky play is good! 

Simple benches allow places for adults to rest or children to take a break. Loved the car! I made a little video of two of the boys on it. They made noises, talked about driving to Mexico, and were using their imaginations! 

This is a HUGE Tic Tac Toe game--who won? Checkers were also nearby. Way to work together boys! 

I loved this shot moving from one stump to the next. These were anchored in, allowing for more stability. More rope fun! These were anchored directly into the trees. 

Lots of great stumps! He chose the one that he felt most comfortable with. As you can see, he is excited about it!

A simple table with dinner prepared! 

Detail of the ropes/duct tape and a wooden disc with a hole. It looks like some had broken off. 

Another log pile! Simple half logs. 

This was to be a bird's nest, with grapevines woven in. However, moms were worried the vines were poison ivy, so they left these like this. Still engaging!

All four fit on a teeter totter! 

There is a slight incline to another section of the play space. They installed a rope to help climb it up. I tried it, too. It was fun and a great way to get to the next spot! This is where the next tunnel went--climb over, dig in the sand, have fun! 

My nine year old particularly liked it! My friend Chris from Nuts and Bolts Playgrounds and Early Learning Center says sand is one of the her top two most impacting areas in a natural play area. 

Another son pointed out the moss and mushrooms, checking out the natural decomposing of the wood. The rock spiral is a nice addition. Since this doesn't have a lot of growth as part of the forest floor, this looks low maintenance.

Loved this little lean to! 

An eagle project is in the works, making a spider web for children to climb down the ravine! They are also building steps for less adventurous souls (maybe read as older) to get to the bottom as well. Love that they are using this space for more variety of slopes and surfaces. In addition, they have worked with volunteers to install steps on another trail, using rocks as the surface so they will not get as slick in the rain. They also enhanced a vernal pool to allow for more amphibians in the area. 

We did a quick garlic mustard pull as a way of saying thanks! I appreciate so much the efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Bish who have adopted this spot and continually add to the area. I talked to Mrs. Bish and she shared the history of a farm stead to a donation to the parks area. They have been long time volunteers to the parks and jumped at the chance to "adopt a spot" here. They coordinate and lead the efforts, putting in many hours pulling out invasive honeysuckle, using power tools, caring for plants, and more!  Never once did I hear anyone tell my kids to stop interacting with nature. While some money was spent  on supplies, such as bolts, rope, drainage pipe, steps, etc. most of the wood and logs were found on site. This is truly a labor of love in the many, many hours of volunteer work with various groups. I appreciate that someone had a vision and continues to work at it! Wish it were closer! If visiting the site, you might bring insect repellant and watch for poison ivy. Thank you, thank you to the many people who made this possible!

Interested in other neat outdoor places? Check out my post on natural playscapes