On Sept. 11, Metro Parks Tacoma (MPT) and Tacoma Nature Center opened the doors to the Center’s newest enhancement, the kid-centered outdoor exploration space Discovery Pond. With the pond MPT aims to connect children with nature to instill these experiences in them at an early age, and hopefully keep them going for the rest of their lifetimes.
“Discovery Pond is a natural play area for children designed to inspire creative play and environmental learning… The play area will provide a natural environment where young children can be immersed in nature exploration that supplements the programming of the adjacent Nature Center,” said Nancy Johnson, communications manager for MPT.
This new addition to the Nature Center has been in the works as a result of the 2005 parks improvement bond measure and a Recreation and Conservation Office grant for $350,000.
“Those have enabled Metro Parks to turn this into a regional destination for people, so in planning (the pond)…a book called ‘Last Child in the Woods’ was the brain child for Discovery Pond,” Johnson said. “That book really inspired the staff at the Nature Center to think about ways they could provide enhanced learning and environmental experiences, how they could appeal to a broader cross section. Studies show that children who are not connected with nature have an increased frequency of ADD and depression and they also show that part of what nature does is help to ground us with its natural rhythms.”
Johnson went on to affirm that it is important for kids to have a connection to the outdoors and natural spaces, which Discovery Pond will offer. “As they grow, The Nature Center offers trails for hiking and places where one can find inner peace by being with nature. It was previously going to be called the Children’s Exploration Area, but they wanted to give it an easily recognized name, so kids can say ‘I want to go to Discovery Pond!’” Johnson affirmed.
Discovery Pond was outfitted with some unique design aspects that allow for the children to fully utilize the space including: a slide that goes through a hollowed-out log; a snag with climbable ladders inside of it that kids can peer out the top of; a boulder scramble where kids can rock climb, a tree house with three entry points so that kids can climb up the front two different ways, as well as one wheelchair accessible path; another climb that kids can go through the middle of; a pump that lets children pump fresh water that circulates into stream bed and waterfalls; boulders all along that kids can walk through to the edge of the water; log crossings and more.
Johnson wants the public to know that Discovery Pond is not a traditional playground but is rather a nature-themed play area with the specific purpose of connecting kids to nature. “There are log crossings to run across, and it is an amazing space when not filled with kids, but when it is, they’re balancing on uneven rocks, and doing all the things done in the natural world that the modern world doesn’t turn up for anymore. It’s a cool thing.”
The new addition to the Nature Center was initially created with children ages 3-7 in mind, but after the Opening Day celebration, Nature Center and MPT employees both realized that it really is fitting for older children too, up to ages 10 and 11.
Though Discovery Pond is an uncovered space, when weather turns a bit too wet to navigate the space, kids, classes and families can all walk over to the Nature Center to take in their exhibits and more.
In addition to visitors and families coming into Discovery Pond, camps will incorporate use of the space that is used by the Nature Center pre-school as well as private parties as the area will be available for rental for birthdays and other gatherings. “For two hours each day, we will have reservation rental times available for birthday parties, in which kids and parents can go inside and choose from a few different themes including furry friends, pond critters, spiders rule and more as well as have a one-hour naturalist led program that includes guest learning, crafts, allows the kids to go out and play at the Pond and more. It’s just a cool package deal,” Johnson said.
Opening Day saw many families in attendance to check out the brand-new expansion in MPT’s facilities, and very much blew away expectations.
“It was incredible,” Johnson said. “We know we had 550 guests, and we had backpacks and info bags for adults that we gave away and some groups took only one so the number is really closer to 650-700 people. When we were breaking things down at the end of the day, there were still dozens of people there.
“That space is so special to me, and I’m so proud of the work and craftsmanship of the architects who designed it by taking ideas from the brains of our staff and developed it into structures that look so natural, and will hold up with elements.”
Discovery Pond is located inside of Tacoma Nature Center, located at 1919 S. Tyler St. It is open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 30 minutes after sunset. For more information, call (253) 591-6439 or visit www.metroparkstacoma.org.