Child's Play: Adventure Playground changes the landscape for play

So, you've got a kid, huh? Whether it's your own rambunctious preschooler or the bratty nephew you've been charged with keeping alive for the next five hours, the most important thing is leaving your house where valuables are liable to be destroyed and seeking refuge on somebody else's property. In this series, we'll be exploring fun, local, and quirky spots that are kid-tastic and adult-friendly, too.

With warm weather settling in, it's time to let the kids burn off months of pent-up energy at one of the many playgrounds 'round town. If you haven't tried the one-of-a-kind (and Westword 2014 Best Of winner) Adventure Playground at Sandstone Ranch in Longmont, there's not a minute to waste.

See also: Janet Casson helps grownups make music with their kiddos

Designed by Kerry White of Urban Play Studio, this playground offers a subtle mix of manufactured and nature-based play elements. "One of the main goals of the project was to provide children with play experiences they wouldn't find elsewhere, such as at their school or neighborhood playgrounds," says White, who was the project manager and lead designer, working with Design Concepts during planning and construction.

The overarching theme is nature-inspired; while there is some manufactured equipment, almost every piece is custom-designed. White created a space where kids could gain control over their play experience by manipulating the environment: building, pouring, spreading, climbing. A wide array of interactive, non-prescriptive play areas set this landscape apart from others.

The beloved sand-play area features a raised landing with a water pump alongside a ground-level box. Although the raised space was constructed with accessibility in mind, "Most kids seem to be drawn to this area over the ground-level one," says White. "The city has found it to be pretty messy, but I feel that's a sign of lots of good play happening." The nearby boulder labyrinth is another exciting spot. "It's simply a path rising up and over a mound with switchbacks that we lined on either side with large boulders," explains White. Stone steps provide special shortcuts. "This area allows kids to climb and crawl and experience uneven and challenging natural surfaces -- which is much different than the plastic and metal materials of traditional play structures," she adds. While the climbing wall is technically faux boulder, its stone-like material is visually appealing and definitely offers something different than what you'd get with a typical post-and-platform climbing structure. "I think these walls, if designed well, also offer children various 'play loops' that increase the quality of play," says White. With a treehouse accessible by bridge from the climbing wall, children have many choices in how they'd like to play. The Sandstone Ranch park site is an historic homestead, and the original silo, adjacent to the playground, was refurbished. To complement the rich history, White also designed an agrimaze, a pathway winding through tall, ornamental grasses planted in loose rows to reflect crops in a field.

This is a place where kids can truly run wild and explore their surroundings.

For more information on the Adventure Playground, visit the City of Longmont's website. And for more information on White and the projects she's involved with, visit Urban Play Studio.

Follow Jamie Siebrase on Twitter.

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