The Enchanted Playgarden has completed its first year of magical existence, and I do mean magical. This time last year, myself and my husband (with our three young kids in tow) were putting in ten hour days at the Crawford Bay Park, building the playground from scratch. This involved attending to the placement of each element – from the log retaining walls to the contour of the slopes of the hill slide; measuring, raking topsoil, laying sod, shovelling sand, balancing giant tractor tires, and sinking bongo drums and xylophones into cylinders of cement. It took us about three months to build. Not a single paid contractor was involved. We scrambled to get it ready for Starbelly Jam, where up to three hundred kids descended on the space for twelve hours a day for the duration of the festival. Then we took a seat and watched the magic of what we had created unfold before us. Over the Starbelly weekend, we saw kids in the Playgarden so focused on their play that their parents couldn’t drag them away to go listen to a band on the main stage. Kids of various ages formed teams around the water pump and log sluiceway, taking it in turns to pump, create dams, channel the runoff water and dig in the sandpit. There were kids around that feature constantly, flooding the surrounding areas, which luckily turned into some fun pud muddles for toddlers to splash in. I recognized it as real, authentic children’s play, not directed by an adult and with nobody policing the kids, ordering them to take turns or play nicely.
Twenty feet away from the water and sand area is a grassy circle full of very high-quality outdoor instruments, created to sound resonant and pleasing no matter how they are played. The sounds from these instruments wafted through the festival, and further. Our friend who lives miles from the park said she could hear them. She loves the sound. Local businesses have told us the same. When you enter the Playgarden, you can quickly tell it isn’t a ‘cookie cutter’ playground. Yes, there are slides, swings, and the famous merry-go-round, but there is so much more than this. There are also giant wooden bears and dragons, hills, sand and water, a sideways tree, musical instruments and more. We designed this space for all the senses, so kids could rest, hide, climb, create, make music, scramble, dig, swing, slide and use their imaginations. We also wanted it to feel balanced, beautiful, welcoming and tactile. As a parent and early childhood professional, I take great interest in children’s play. I like to read about it and research it by watching my own and other kids at play. What I see and read about again and again is that modern children’s playgrounds have become so safety conscious and sterile that they have impaired children’s ability to access risks in their environment, and ironically this has made children less safe in the long run. Children need to take risks, their brains demand it and crave it. And if all risks are removed when they begin to try and create them by using playground equipment in ways for which it was not intended.
When you come to play at the Enchanted Playgarden, you should expect to stay a while. There is so much to do that your kids won’t get bored and very likely won’t want to leave. This is what we hoped! Years before we finally raised enough money to begin the building, we were dreaming, googling, researching and experimenting with designs that took nature into account. We studied, ate and slept playgrounds for so long – and now what we dreamed belongs to everyone. The feedback we hear now, directly and indirectly from visitors, kids and parents are overwhelmingly positive. On our Facebook page a local business owner, Pam Newcomen, wrote, “I have watched our grandchildren have hours of joy. I have watched other children have hours of joy. The comment I hear most often is that this beats most other play-areas, hands down”. We as a community on the East Shore now have a real place to take our kids that is free and beautiful and publicly accessible. Every Sunday when the weather is decent we know we can go there and meet our friends. In a community that is so spread out and sometimes isolated, this is important. Wynndel resident and parent Janine Wittig, wrote ‘This may be one of the best parks I’ve ever taken my kids to. The water feature is so fun and the musical accompaniment can’t be beaten! It’s so much fun!’ But don’t take Janine’s word for it. If you are enroute to Kootenay Lake Ferry or taking a trip up the Lake for any reason – plan to take your kids or grandkids, and make a stop at the Crawford Bay Park. Bring a picnic or visit the lovely bakery across the street, and be prepared for some enchantment. Follow ‘The Enchanted Playgarden at Crawford Bay Park’ on Facebook to find out about special events or otherwise connect.
Submitted by Ellie Reynolds the Coordinator the East Shore Alliance Supporting the Early Years and co-creator of the Enchanted Playground, along with her husband Charles.