Forest Park Play Area Spring

Rendering of the planned “spring” area of the 17-acre Nature Playscape in Forest Park.

Officials with Forest Park Forever and the city of St. Louis held a July 15 groundbreaking for a new Nature Playscape in Forest Park.

The experiential Playscape is being created on 17 acres in the heart of the park, between the World’s Fair Pavilion and the Jewel Box.

Funded by donors to Forest Park Forever, the Nature Playscape is designed to feature eight activity areas, including mounds, spring, meadow, a wetland and more. A series of paths and boardwalks will connect the distinct areas, creating opportunities for kids and families to climb, splash, build and explore their way through the site.

The key goals for the Nature Playscape project are to:

• Connect children and families of all backgrounds and abilities with nature and promote their physical, mental and emotional well-being;

• Engage children’s senses as they explore, discover and learn;

• Provide an accessible, joyful and safe destination for nature-based experiential education;

• Transform mowed turf into natural landscapes with native and diverse plant species;

• Promote environmental stewardship among community members of all ages;

• Enhance the overall Forest Park experience for all visitors.

Forest Park Wetland

Rendering of a planned wetland area at Forest Park’s Nature Playscape.

“The new Nature Playscape will be a fantastic and unique destination for both Forest Park and the entire region,” said Lesley Hoffarth, president and executive director of Forest Park Forever. “We are grateful to our generous donors who have made this project possible, and to the City of St. Louis for our terrific partnership here in the park.”

Greg Hayes, director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry for St. Louis, said the new Nature Playscape has been designed to fit thoughtfully within Forest Park.

“Up until now this area had just been mowed turf. In restoring these 17 acres to more natural landscapes, the project not only offers an incredible amount of nature-based fun to visitors, but it also continues our long-term efforts to be responsible stewards of the Forest Park grounds,” Hayes said.

Playscape Design

The Nature Playscape in Forest Park has been developed and designed by a team of national experts in the fields of landscape architecture and play spaces — including the Natural Learning Initiative, H3 Studio, Interboro Partners and Rubus Landscape Architecture. The design team worked in collaboration with Forest Park Forever, the City of St. Louis and local leaders in the areas of child development, experiential and outdoor education, play and access.

The project included interactive engagement with a diverse community of St. Louis youth from more than 20 schools, recreation centers and youth/education organizations.

Playscape Definition

The term “playscape” may be new to many. A nature playscape can be described as “a designated, managed area in an existing or modified outdoor environment where children of all ages and abilities play and learn by engaging with and manipulating diverse natural elements, materials, organisms, and habitats, through sensory, fine motor and gross motor experiences.”

How Youth Benefit from Nature

Today’s children, especially those from urban environments, often have limited opportunities to experience and benefit from nature. Research shows that children who spend time playing in nature can be healthier, happier and smarter.

The fun and delight of nature exploration can boost self-esteem, improve positive social relations and reduce negative behavior. When outdoors, children become active learners moving around, enchanted by the colors, sounds, textures and smells of plants and fascinated by animals that live there.

Project Facts

• Nature Playscape site is 17 acres

• First project of its kind of this scale in the region

• Located in the heart of Forest Park, between the World’s Fair Pavilion and the Jewel Box

• 280 majority native species trees are being planted, and 20 existing trees are being transplanted

• 600 native species shrubs are being planted

• 100-plus species of grasses and flowering plants are being planted

• Site is accessible by all modes of transport, including school buses

• Playscape features ADA-accessible paths

• Nature Playscape will open in 2020