The sun peaked out of the clouds just in time for the Natural Play Area at Washougal Waterfront Park to open on June 7th. A small army of children took over Eegah and Erric to cheers from the tight-knit Camas-Washougal community. The new natural play area is a fitting centerpiece for the development happening all around it. Kim Noah, Director of Operations at The Port of Camas-Washougal, gave us some insight into the project’s inspiration.
The Port of Camas-Washougal hired GreenWorks to design a new nature play area adjacent to the Columbia River, a highlight of the mile-long trail following the shoreline of Washougal Waterfront Park. Children of all ages and abilities can experience natural materials designed for physical, social, and exploratory play—including an embankment slide, musical instruments, log climbers, a winding discovery trail through the forest, and a larger than life Sasquatch sculpture (!).
GW: How do the nature play area and Waterfront Park fit into the larger vision for parks and open spaces in the area?
KN: The Waterfront Park and Trail is the key connector piece for both communities (Camas and Washougal) to the Columbia River waterfront. The Nature Play area is the first in Camas and Washougal's park system to be made of all-natural elements, bringing variety to this park and a theme to the waterfront, which is for visitors to enjoy the beauty of nature in its natural elements.
The waterfront park and trail is a key connector piece to over 19 miles of trail systems in Camas and Washougal.
GW: The nature play area has been designed around an ice-age arrival to the Camas-Washougal area named ‘Erric the Erratic’, courtesy of the Missoula Floods. Was Erric the Erratic the inspiration for placing a natural play area in that location? If so, what were some of the ideas for integrating a huge boulder into a playground that you didn’t end up pursuing?
KN: The community was the inspiration for a nature play area. We created various working groups for the waterfront development and one of the groups focused on recreation. Their first project idea was the Nature Play Area.
The community was the inspiration for a nature play area.
During the waterfront cleanup process, a group of geologists from Portland State University, I believe, came to look at the boulder and to see if it was truly an erratic, which it is. We thought this would be a great historical item to keep, a chance to explain the Missoula Floods and what these ‘erratics’ are through an interpretive sign.
We then thought it would be a great Nature Play Area piece for kids to climb on, so we looked along the waterfront trail for the best place to have a nature play area and moved Erric to that location.
GW: The design you ultimately pursued features a ‘tug-of-war’ between Erric and a Sasquatch named ‘Eegah’, right? How did you decide to pursue this design? Was there a public involvement process? If so, how was the name ‘Eegah’ selected?
KN: Eegah was not the original design of the nature play area. We were going to have logs and a rope climb for kids to access the rock on one side and then a grass slope on the other. It wasn't until we were a little further along in the process when Greenworks was introduced to ID Sculpture who make playground pieces out of sculptures.
We took both design concepts... to the students at the K-5 schools in Washougal and had a vote ... Over 600 students and staff were interviewed, and the sasquatch sculpture won.
Greenworks brought the idea to us, to have some type of sculpture in the nature play area. Originally Eegah was pushing Erric but after design began, we discovered it would be better for Eegah to be pulling Erric. We took both design concepts (log/rope climb and Eegah) to the students at the K-5 schools in Washougal and had a vote on which one they would like in Nature Play Area. Over 600 students and staff were interviewed, and the sasquatch sculpture won. The naming of Eegah was another public process— people sent in their name ideas.
GW: What other aspects of the project did you find particularly fun to come up with?
KN: The port's wayfinding signage for pedestrians and cyclists throughout Camas and Washougal. The signage is used to help people navigate through both downtown areas using sidewalks and trail systems. One loop takes people to downtown Washougal and the other loop takes people to downtown Camas. This was underway while we designing the nature play area.
Depictions of Eegah, as well as the park’s huge inlaid compass, are featured on the wayfinding signs and will soon be painted on sidewalks in the area to help lead people to the sculpture and the compass. The signs bring in many elements of the waterfront park, along with helping people navigate between the park and the two downtown areas.
Washougal Waterfront Park Natural Play area is located at 56 S. 1st St in Washougal, Washington. It’s open from 6 am to midnight everyday.