fbpx Planning Outdoor Spaces to Support Playgrounds in Parks

Planning Outdoor Spaces to Support Playgrounds in Parks

Mon, 03/21/2016 - 7:14pm
Last updated
6 months ago
Time to
Outdoor Fitness

On the way home from a long day at the office, you are driving past the local park like usual, but now a shiny new playground catches your eye. You quickly look in the rearview mirror and glance at your 5 and 2 year olds to see if they have also spotted it. Before you can step on the gas (I mean, you have dinner to prepare, bills to pay, dogs to walk, and you need to work out – you don’t have time for this)…your 5 year old sees the majestic site immediately and begs incessantly to, “Stop for 2 minutes!!” Feeling guilty about the amount of hours spent at work, you say a few select words under your breath (remember your New Year’s Resolution to relax a little?) and you begrudgingly turn on the blinker and head to the “sparkly bundle of fun”. You stand impatiently on the outside of the colorful action-packed assortment of climbers and slides tapping your foot while trying to read emails on your phone and keeping one eye on the kids… 

This story is the same across the country, no matter the state, region, or your occupation. What truly creates a destination at a park? A playground is a huge start, but what else do you need? There are so many things to consider when planning and designing a recreation space, and when done correctly, you can significantly expand park usage. What resources and tools can bring in more patrons, make it more comfortable for all users, and create a space for true recreation and relaxation?  To answer these questions, think beyond the playground.

Site Amenities

Probably the easiest idea that comes to mind while planning complimentary amenities to a playground are the run of the mill site amenities. This includes strategically spaced picnic tables and benches throughout the park. Some should be located near the playground for families to sit, eat, and play all in one place. There is also a need to consider people without children that may not want to be right in the mix of things. Tables and benches located off the beaten path, in the shade, or under a tree offer comfort and solitude that some patrons will be thankful for. 

One thing that should go without saying is to make sure at least a portion of your tables are ADA accessible. An ADA accessible table means that one or both sides of the table have extended lips to accommodate a person who is in a mobility device. There are even some larger ADA tables that are 10’ or 12’ long that have openings on the sides in the center that accommodate these devices.  This truly allows everyone to be included and feel part of the space.  The want is for people to be comfortable, at ease, and to feel like they fit in. Remember to create paths of travel to and from these amenities so that they are truly accessible.
Don’t forget trash receptacles!  This is not a place to cut a budget.  Make sure to provide ample receptacles throughout the park so litter ends up where it belongs, not scattered on the park’s grounds.  These should be included generously around playgrounds, and also near picnic areas where people may need to dispose of trash.  Providing trash receptacles by the entrance of the park and by parking lots allows patrons to dispose of  trash appropriately upon exiting the park.  A way to stay on trend and be environmentally friendly is to also provide recycling receptacles.  There are a plethora of options available from one receptacle that is labeled with the recycling logo that can accept all things recycled, to the more specific receptacles, which typically consist of three together and have labels for Aluminum, Paper, and Glass.  Providing recycling options for the patrons allow for the opportunity to do right by the environment.  Also, it seems that kids are more prone to recycle than their parents so this allows them to teach their parents to think green!  

Depending on the budget, choose from coated steel amenities in a wide variety of colors, wood, or recycled plastic to compliment the landscape.


Another part of the design that is rising in popularity is the shelter.  Steel shelters or pavilions have always been a park staple, but now they are becoming revenue generators through the park’s ability to rent them out for birthday parties or family reunions.  Not only do they provide shelter from the unexpected rainstorm, but they provide very important protection from the sun’s rays and allow park goers to get out of the direct heat of the sun.  Fabric shelters or shades are popping up more and more in the park scene, most importantly over the playground or outdoor fitness parks.  The shade structure’s posts go on the outside of the play use zone and the fabric can come in an array of colors or shapes to provide sun protection.   Look for shades or shelters manufactured in an AISC certified facility which ensures quality systems.

Dog Parks

Dog Parks

Who can think of a park these days that doesn’t have a dog park?  Within the last five years dog parks have increased in popularity twofold. We now know that more people have dogs than children and they are treated equally in many homes. An unleashed dog park can range from a large open space contained by a fence to a more elaborate set-up. These include not only an unleashed area for large dogs but also an area specifically built for the smaller breeds as well (typically under 35 pounds). 

Not only are these two groups separated, but there are often specific agility obstacles contained within these areas.  Things such as hurdles, teeter-totters, A-frame climbers, and tunnels can be found sprinkled around the space, all providing energy-burning workout sessions for Fido. Within the dog parks themselves, you should also plan on places for patrons to sit, throw away trash, and pick up pet waste to deposit in receptacles (which typically come with their own doggie-waste bags), as well as water fountains.  Many water fountains are dual purpose and have “human” and “man’s best friend” bowls. A great tool for planning these areas is PlayCore’s Unleashed: Off-Leash Dog Park Design Trends and Planning Tips. Request a free copy by visiting http://www.playcore.com/Unleashed-dog-park-design.html.

Adult Outdoor Fitness

Outdoor Fitness

While at the park so the children and dog can burn off some energy, what about you?  Outdoor fitness equipment is nothing new, but it is making headlines with new, innovative designs that include movement, modern exercises, and complimentary color schemes.  Look for pieces that cover areas of aerobic, core/balance, and flexibility and muscle strength.  Incorporating pieces across this spectrum allows someone to come to the park and get a fully-rounded workout.  While still being able to find your standard chin-up bar, now pieces that you usually see in the gym like Ellipticals, Plyometric Boxes, Recumbent Bikes are popping up.  These products were specifically designed to withstand the elements and to be used outdoors.  Outdoor fitness products can be placed along a path or trail to allow walkers or runners to pause periodically along their route, or cluster the fitness pieces together to create a fitness park in one area.  Another popular trend is placing three or four pieces on the outside perimeter of a playground’s use zone, so a parent can exercise while they supervise!  Healthy choices and active lifestyles are contributing to people living longer. 

Senior Outdoor Fitness

Companies have developed outdoor fitness equipment specifically for the active, aging adult as well.  These products aim to help maintain an active quality of life and focus on balance and flexibility.  When planning and designing a fitness space, consider the wide age range of users (most are for ages 13 and up) and offer pieces for a wide variety of abilities.   A great tool for planning these areas is PlayCore’s Outdoor Adult Fitness Parks: Best Practices for Promoting Community Health by Increasing Physical Activity. Request a free copy by visiting http://fitness.playcore.com/adult-fitness-request.

When designing and planning a recreation space, consider all users; people with or without children, young and old, those with a disability, and people with pets.  The park should have accessible pathways to the playgrounds, shelters, dog parks, and fitness areas.  Accessible tables, fountains, and fitness equipment are all available through a multitude of vendors. 

Now while driving home after a long day at the office, you excitedly turn on the blinker, get in some exercise while the kids burn off some energy, eat a healthy dinner that was packed the night before, pay your bills on the perfectly situated picnic table, have the dog run at the dog park, and just breathe.

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