Kennedy to have ‘playscape’

Plans for a natural playscape at John F. Kennedy Memorial Park are nearly complete, and construction may begin this fall, according to Webster County Naturalist Karen Hansen.

Hansen talked about the innovative new play area and other aspects of park’s master plan at the April meeting of the Fort Dodge Area Gardeners Thursday night.

“Basically, it’s taking a lot of materials,” Hansen said. “Trees and rocks and logs and water, which is an interesting feature. It’s a place for kids to play. And get dirty. And get wet. And really play in nature.

“There’s a real effort these days for people to try to bring back the natural aspect of things and get kids outside to really play.”

The playscape will be located west of the Heun Shelter where the road bends south, just north of the existing, traditional playground. It’s part of a larger plan for the area that juts out into the lake, which will be called Discovery Point. It will feature prairie areas, new trails and an observation tower.

“We are in the final review stage,” Hansen said.

Early designs included a zipline, which has since been taken out, she said. She anticipated the final design will be ready in the next week.

The area will include a water feature. Kids pump their own water from a platform and it runs down through a dry bed, Hansen said.

Another area will have stumps and rocks to climb on to reach a berm overlooking the area. There will also be a big sandpit, with logs to walk across, filled with buried fossils for kids to dig up.

There will also be a tree house of some sort, and a feature based on the seven pillars of Character Counts.

Much of the natural materials can be obtained for “little or nothing,” Hansen said. Some labor can be done by county workers, to save on costs.

Webster County Conservation is working with Abundant Playscapes of Iowa City to design the area.

“That’s as local as we can get for this kind of thing,” Hansen said.

Construction would hopefully begin by late summer or fall to be completed by next spring.

The Friends of Webster County Conservation are helping to sponsor the project. The county will also be looking for other funds, possibly from groups who may want to sponsor an individual feature, she said.

The playscape is one of the high priorities on the Kennedy Park Master Plan.

“There hasn’t been a master plan for decades,” Hansen said. “It is not just to give us focus on what we are doing, but to help our board and the supervisors understand as well.

“It also helps us not just apply for grants more easily, but to acquire grants, which is a huge piece of the puzzle.”

Other priorities at the park include improvements to water quality and work on the boat ramp. A butterfly garden also may be built near the easternmost parking lot, Hansen said.

The project was of great interest to the gathered gardeners, said club President Doug Brightman.

“How perfect to have this presentation. It fits with our purpose of our organization,” he said.

Of the 50-plus members of the club, at least 20 of them are also Master Gardeners, he said. They can fulfill some of their needed volunteer hours at Kennedy Park.

Volunteer days are from 9 to 11 a.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays in the “nice months,” Hansen said.

The Fort Dodge Area Gardeners meet each month to present topics related to gardening preservation and environmental issues. The next meeting will be on May 1 and focus on the Emerald Ash Borer.