Not only does the new Millstone Creek Park bring a Nature playground and a traditional playground together, it is also a completely accessible playground. It is a truly unique place to play.
The Millstone Creek Park was built on about 15 acres at 745 N. Spring Road, at the corner of Spring and Maxtown roads. In addition to a playground, the park includes sports fields, a small basketball court, bikeways and a 1,231-square-foot brick shelter that houses restroom facilities.
“It’s built for all age groups as well as learning abilities,” said Michael Hooper, Westerville Parks and Recreation Department development administrator. “It’s got a ramp system, and it’s probably the largest playground in our system.”
A “sound garden” offers a chance to make music on percussion instruments. In addition, local civic groups have spent the past several weekends working on the nature play area, Hooper said. The Westerville Sunrise Rotary Club, the Lions Club, the Kiwanis Club and a group from CVS have worked on the segment of the park that allows children a safe way to interact with and study nature.
The woods can be a wonderland for children. Low bushes become a maze of tunnels. Circles of stones transform into tribal councils. Logs serve as balance beams, and tadpoles squirm between little fingers in a shallow stream. It’s the oldest kind of playground, but Westerville has turned nature into the newest kind of playground.
At Millstone Creek Park wire frames mold plants into tunnels, a blueprint marks the arrangement of boulders and logs, and pebble beaches along the stream are similarly engineered. There’s a watchtower for parents in the middle of it all. An arbor covered in vines and a willow tunnel are part of the “Plant Play” area, and a boardwalk leads over a wetlands area. A maintained shallow area offers children a safe way to explore natural waterways. The “Earth Play” area features a pit where children can hunt through sand for casts of fossils. The cement path in that area is stamped with animal tracks. Another area has a large climbing boulder, an embankment slide built onto a hill and a dry riverbed.
Hooper said he hopes children are more drawn to the section with the “earth play,” “water play,” and “plant play. than the traditional playground that makes up the other half of the play area” “This is to reconnect kids with nature,” he said. “Don’t leave kids inside. We want them to experience what we experienced as kids, to play in the stream and to try and catch tadpoles and frogs.” Chrissy Zepfel, who lives five minutes away, said she knows her three children, particularly her eldest, will love digging for pill bugs and exploring nature.
The other half of the playground is a rainbow of whimsical loops of twisted plastic that looks like a cross between a Dr. Seuss book and an old episode of Star Trek. The playground includes, Neos, a game that gets players jumping around in a web of colored lights and sensors. It’s sort of a 3-D version of the memory game Simon.
The entire park was designed to be accessible to children with disabilities from the tallest towers to the boardwalk over the wetlands.
One of the goals with an accessible playground is to make sure it doesn’t look like an accessible playground. It’s hard to achieve integration when children without disabilities think a playground is boring, said Blake Hobson, a managing partner with Playworld Midstates in New Albany. His company helped to build the playground.
The accessible features aren’t limited to ramps. For parents wondering why metal slides have made a comeback at Millstone Creek Park, it’s because the static electricity created by plastic slides can zap children with cochlear implants.
The city staff worked with nonprofit groups, children with disabilities and their parents to design the playground. Hooper said they enlisted children of all abilities at summer camps to review display boards, debate features and vote on plans. Parents of children with disabilities are used to having to fight to make sure government officials kept their children in mind, Zepfel said, but Westerville surprised them. “They listened,” said Patty Lyons, whose daughter has cerebral palsy. “They really took the ideas from the kids and parents to heart.”