With the high demand to incorporate nature into people’s lives in urban settings yet provide basic needs such as playgrounds and passive open space, there is a new type of park emerging: Nature-Based Neighborhood Park. Engelman Park in Wilsonville, Oregon has the elements of a traditional neighborhood park, but it feels quite different. Located in a high-density residential neighborhood, the nature-theme is a derivative of the large amount and size of the existing trees planted by the Engelman family in the 1960’s. Along with the preservation of the urban tree canopy, the design relies on vast native planting areas and an understory of forest duff, as well as nature-based playgrounds to give the sense and feel of a wild, natural environment amidst a developed neighborhood setting.
On opening day, children started their play experience at the nature-themed playground structures near the entrance of the park. After a few runs down the slide, they made their way along the crushed rock path that follows the dry-creek bed towards the play equipment in the back of the park that focus on balancing and climbing. Along the way, the kids discovered boulders and downed logs carefully placed throughout the park as landscape elements. As soon as one child strayed off the trail, others followed suit as if they never had the opportunity to see and touch a real rock or log. Next thing we knew, a two-year old was insisting the dry creek bed was their personal pathway. Why walk on plain-old concrete when you can walk on rocks?
Nature-Based Parks allow for self-discovery; children are free to roam the park and play in areas that are unlike any place they have seen or been to. Despite being quite simple looking, it was no small feat to create this feeling in a one acre park. It took thoughtful design moves to create the space, from the layout and scale of paths and gathering spaces, to planting design, to the placement of boulders and downed logs. The park was designed to represent a wilder, natural environment with an aesthetic that enables park users to feel as if they have left the City without going far from home.