There are natural playgrounds popping up all over the city. These playgrounds tend to move away from the colourful plastic of traditional playgrounds and blend in more seamlessly with the environment around them. They offer loads of opportunities for kids to explore and think outside the box, sometimes with such features as sand and water play or loose parts for building.
Ralph Klein Park, in the city’s southeast, is a man-made wetland, constructed to improve stormwater quality before it enters the Bow River system. You can learn more when you visit the Environmental Education Centre which features an indoor classroom, resource library, art studio, and interpretive signage. It’s open daily during the summer and from Tuesday to Saturday during the winter (closed statutory holidays). The park also includes a community orchard with pear and apple trees and a picnic area.
But, most importantly for kids, there’s also a brand-new (opened in 2018) natural playground! Created by Earthscape, this playground is designed to represent the mountains, foothills, and prairies as part of the water-cycle story, showing how water moves from the mountains, through the foothills, and into the prairies and wetlands. Local children brainstormed ideas and gave feedback. The park consists of logs to climb on, a rope net, and lots of opportunities for an obstacle course. One section of the park, the loose parts play zone, is perfect for building a fort or designing whatever amazing thing the kids can come up with. There is also a smoothly-running zip line.
The absolute favourite, though? The mountain climber won rave reviews from my kids, who immediately set out to scramble over, under, and through it. It’s tall enough to add that frisson of excitement for bigger kids and tall enough that you might not want your toddler up there! Thankfully, younger kids would likely have trouble climbing up, anyway. (But they might love the logs and rope net.)
With picnic areas, logs to perch on, and a lovely natural environment, this playground is a visually appealing and peaceful place to hang out for a few hours. When we visited, the Environmental Education Centre was closed, but there was a washroom building near the playground that was open. (That could have been a deal-breaker.) Plan one of your visits during the late summer, and snag an apple off a tree at the community orchard to snack on, too!
Ralph Klein Natural Playground: