By Karla Bloem
Houston Nature Center
Just like most ambitious endeavors, it all started with a vision, no idea of how it would happen, but faith that it would.
The initial idea for a natural playground at the Houston Nature Center was just a passing idea in 2002. As the years passed, the idea stayed far in the background, every now and then surfacing for some discussion. The concept solidified a bit with some internet searches a few years ago to identify a company that created the style of a truly-natural playground the Friends of the Houston Nature Center were looking for.
It wasn’t until the fall of 2010 when a Statewide Health Improvement Program* grant dropped out of heaven that the ball actually started rolling on this unique project. The next year brought a site visit and survey by the Natural Playgrounds Company from New Hampshire, the plans, and the onset of fundraising.
Initial estimates put the projected fundraising goal at $122,000 for the one-acre playground filled with boulders, caves, tunnels, hills, sand, a water pump, a labyrinth, a sundial and more natural fun. A ground breaking ceremony, conducted by children from local daycares with their trucks and sand shovels, took place on Aug. 1, 2012.
Ole’s Excavating agreed to begin work before fundraising was complete, trusting that people would contribute to this fun and unique project for the region. Huge boulders and stone slabs were hauled in, a 10 foot high hill constructed, a wooden climbing wall was fashioned out of local black locust trees, and most of the heavy work was completed by winter.
This spring, with its snow, cold, and rain, hasn’t been conducive to much work on the playground. Behind the scenes, however, volunteers are gearing up to install the embankment slide, stump circles, labyrinth and all the other play elements that remain to be added. Once the rest of the machine work is done, 40 trees will be added to the park and work will begin on a four foot tall concrete mosaic owl sculpture.
Support for the project has come from well over 100 individuals, businesses, private foundations, and grants. Everyone donating $100 or more to the project will have their name engraved on a stone in the playground, making the donor recognition part of the playground itself.
Fundraising wrapped up in May thanks to several substantial contributions this year: $12,000 from the Catherine Manley Gaylord Foundation, $10,000 from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council**, $5,000 from Mystic Star Lodge #69, $1,500 from Ace Communications Group and $1,500 from Eastwood Bank. Total funds raised for the project are just under $110,000.
A grand opening for the Natural Playground is tentatively planned for September. In the meantime, follow the progress of the project in pictures at www.facebook.com/HoustonNatureCenter (no Facebook account is required to view.)
This project is sponsored by the Friends of the Houston Nature Center, a 501(c)3 organization, in cooperation with the City of Houston.
*The Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP), an integral part of Minnesota’s nation-leading 2008 health reform law, strives to help Minnesotans lead longer, healthier lives by preventing the chronic disease risk factors of tobacco use and exposure, poor nutrition and physical inactivity.
**This project is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.