Plaster Creek Family Park, a $1 million collaboration between Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation, Grand Rapids Public Schools, and the Cities Connecting Children to Nature Network, connects urban and generally lower-income children with the benefits of nature. Located adjacent to Burton Elementary, the park’s improvements are designed to encourage a love of lifelong learning. The master plan includes Phase I of a natural playscape in a native prairie environment with a “Meadows” theme, rerouting of the electrical for the ballfield lighting and irrigation, and new public restroom doors. In addition to the construction, the team removed trash and debris along the edges of the park and opened up views into the woods for safety and security.
Splitting the combined sewer overflow system creates a rain garden where the storm water is diverted. This helps reduce the burden on the city’s wastewater treatment facilities. Native plants help treat runoff and rebuild micro-habitats to support biodiversity. About an acre of surrounding lawn area was converted to native prairie for lower maintenance and support of native fauna. Native trees help sequester carbon, reduce heat island effects by providing shade, and absorbing a portion of rainwater / runoff. Crushed aggregate pathways are used in the majority of the park due to their lower embodied carbon footprint compared to concrete.
The Nest Outdoor Classroom illustrates the connections between nature and learning. Designed as a structured amphitheater, The Nest can host classes or student performances. Stacked logs form the tiered seating and cut log sections laid out as a continuous surface become the stage. Logs laid at various angles, installed over engineered wood fiber surfacing, invite students to climb them and be active explorers. The edge of the retaining wall also has logs and boulders to climb. Small logs form the edges of steps. Bright colored gateways in natural shapes make entrances and exits playful. The project also added a new ADA ramp down the hill to the classroom.