Using natural elements like downed trees, logs and willow branch tunnels, so-called nature play spaces parks are a new trend in playgrounds — and Baltimore has joined the movement.
A new nature play space at Druid Hill Park features an art installation created by students from Carver Vocational Technical High School in Coppin Heights. Installed this week, the piece is made from a slice of wood sourced from a downed Druid Hill Park oak tree dating back to 1829.
The play space is located in the middle of Druid Hill Park, surrounded by an expanse of grass. It sits at the intersection of Red Road and East Drive (across from Safety City).
The four students who crafted the new piece are members of Carver Vo-Tech’s carpentry class and laser club, and are all in apprenticeships. A college prep high school, Carver Vo-Tech offers nine vocational tracks that include paid internships, on-the-job training and a pathway to a skilled career post-graduation.
“The students from the carpentry and laser club worked very hard on this project,” said Greg McDevitt, their teacher. “It did take us some time to count the tree rings. The wood slice featured in the sculpture has 188 rings and dates the tree to 1829.”
Senior Keyashia Holt’s apprenticeship focuses on machinery lasering. (It’s highly technical — the machine on which she’s training costs $250,000.)
“I enjoy hands-on work, and I plan to study engineering,” Holt said.
After high school, she said the company where she interns will send her to Ohio to learn how to weld, and to complete her certification with the National Institute for Metalworking Skills.
“When I return home, I will work for the company,” she explained.
Funded by the Arbor Day Foundation and a TD Bank Green Streets Program grant, the natural play space that Holt and her peers contributed to is a first for Baltimore. The park’s natural components were all recycled from different urban forests within the city limits. The park’s perimeter is ringed by reclaimed logs supplied by the city’s Urban Forestry Division.
“The Nature Play Space was developed by many internal city departments working together with a group of outside partners,” said Mary Hardcastle, resource development director at Baltimore City Recreation and Parks. “A large oak tree fell over in the park and instead of taking it away, folks from different internal groups decided to design a park around the tree.”
At first glance, the sandbox may pass for a pile of dirt surrounded by shade trees, but it’s really an unstructured area filled with toys and rocks. It seems to have no bounds.
The nature play space boasts plenty of signage intended to educate the public about the value of trees and the benefits of children playing and connecting to nature.
Hardcastle said the natural playground’s components “allow families to engage with nature.”
“The park has become a popular playdate spot,” she said.