We sat down with owner, Christopher Johnsen, to learn more about destination playgrounds! We see requests for this quite often and many people have no idea what this actually means, what to expect or where to start!
H: Chris, tell me in your own words what is a destination playground?
C: To me, this is a multi-generational, inclusive playground with a lot of equipment that is unique to the area, additional amenities (picnic shelter, grills, etc…) or a neat feature like a lake/river access or bike trails. We see the end goal of a destination playground being not only great for the community but also a place that brings in others from a large geographical area and where visitors can spend the whole day.
H: What, then, is the difference between a regular park playground and a destination playground?
C: We see the playground itself being something that people really want to travel to. It is usually larger in size, or even higher. We find more and more that kids want taller towers and experiences. This is nice too because it allows for a greater capacity with a smaller footprint and gives communities a ‘wow factor.’
H: Can you give me an example of ‘wow’ equipment?
H: So, once a community decides they want one of these playgrounds, what happens then?
C: A lot of the process is the same as a regular playground. But, we do want customers to know the budget may be higher, say $100,000-$500,000 for just equipment and the process can be longer too.
H: What sort of things should a community think about besides budget and timeline?
C: I’d recommend looking at the site itself (elevation, drainage), etc… we find some sites have current equipment or other factors that a community wants to keep like a sidewalk, trees, etc … While, other customers are starting from a complete blank slate. This is where adequate surveying is really important.
H: What do you mean by adequate surveying?
C: . Well, when you have a larger size playground you really have get the details exact. We use a HILTI machine which really helps us know the exact size, elevation and slope changes and we can import the design, surfacing and more to ensure that everything gets laid out exactly as desired and needed. We find a lot of destination playgrounds incorporate inclusive ADA features and this needs to be taken into account along with fall heights, use zones, access points, and so on. This really helps us manage the project throughout all phases.
H: What do you find to differentiate St Croix Recreation when it comes to creating destination playgrounds?
C: We find that our Project Managers have been able to see a lot of variety in playgrounds through travel. We’ve visited sites through sales meetings from Florida to Germany and have really seen a lot of ideas! We also find that we have great control over the entire process; from the surveying and design building, to installation and checking for accuracy/safety concerns after the structure is completed through 3rd party audits.
H: What brought you to Germany?
C: One of our vendors is based in Germany. That’s what we find is so great about our destination playground building; we’re able to incorporate 3 different manufacturers in any given site.
H: Tell me about them.
C: First there is BCI Burke, located here in the Midwest, they offer great equipment with both traditional deck and post structures and innovative pieces like the ADA compliant zipline. Next, we have Berliner, from Germany, which started with rope structures but now offers some amazingly creative pieces that we just don’t find really anywhere else in Minnesota. Our third manufacturer we like to use for playgrounds is Percussion Play. The musical instrument category is really up and coming and these pieces are great for year-round play for really everyone, all ages and abilities!
H: And, each playground can include all of these?
C: Yes, we have the ability and the technology to put all three manufacturers’ products in one site. Check out Lake Brophy in Alexandria or Lake Side Park in Bayport for really great examples (See Below).
H: What about amenities?
C: Yes, we can do really everything a community wants in a playground and park. The shelters, picnic tables, drinking fountains. This makes us a one stop shop and we can be as little or as much involved as you need. From just providing equipment to helping to coordinate with excavation, surfacing or other site-work.
H: Great. So, tell me: if you have a customer on the fence about doing a destination playground, what would you tell them the reasons are?
C: They are a big expense and a big project and they may not be right for every community at every time. But, they do add so much to a community! Not only is a great space for the immediate residents but it also brings people in from all over. This usually also benefits local business and brings some really positive PR to a city/county. And, they’re some of our favorite projects! We get to really know the community, from the park board to city or county officials, to residents or local contractors also working on the job. They’re some of our most-loved sites and ones we really feel personally attached to!