Grace Lord Park and the adjacent Canalside Park in Boonton, New Jersey, attract families, hikers and nature enthusiasts throughout the year. This scenic, historical area includes wooded trails along the Rockaway River and green space for picnics, weddings, community events, and most recently a natural-themed playground.
This new playground replaces a 30-year-old wooden structure that was both outdated and unsafe. “When our residents speak up, our town leadership listens,” says Rosemarie Lynch, Boonton Parks and Recreation Director. She was instrumental in leading the project.
“It’s been a long-time coming,” she says with warmth and relief. “Our town worked very hard to make this playground a reality. It’s brought a lot of pride to our community.”
Originally, Boonton was built because of the water. Early settlers harnessed the power of the river for iron refining mills and industry flourished. In an effort to preserve the rich history, beauty and natural resources, the community wants to create an outdoor classroom with educational trail markers along the river. “We envision visitors enjoying the trails, then spending time at the new playground and picnicking,” explains Rosemarie.
“We wanted the playground design to blend with the nearby trails and wooded areas. To help us pick the right design, we sought out the experts,” Rosemarie says with an earnest smile. This first included the vetting of several playground companies, in which they selected General Recreation. Rosemarie had originally met Gen Rec playground consultant Joe DelVecchio at a trade show.
Additional experts included the local Girl Scout Troop, who brainstormed ideas and voted on their favorite designs. “Joe worked closely with us on design changes and then we presented the final plan to our aldermen. The investment was higher than we’d anticipated, however, we successfully fundraised to make it happen,” says Rosemarie.
During the process, Rosemarie shared that working with Joe was fun and different. “Joe had included all the playful and thoughtful design details that other designers didn’t. It really stood out to us and tied the playground into the natural surroundings. He gave us a complete picture of what it could be and brought all of our ideas together,” she recalls.
“Working with Rosemarie and her team went really smoothly,” recalls Joe. “She appreciated our creative design approach, and services from concept all the way to installation.”
It’s truly a unique and exploratory play experience: imagine a lovingly built childhood tree fort turned modern-day playground. The main structure has multiple decks with pine tree toppers and cabin roofs. To access these areas, kids can choose from a variety of rock climbers, a log stack climber, or a recycled-wood ladder up a tree trunk. Whimsical acorn seats and log benches dot the perimeter of the play area.
The playground’s natural color palette blends into the surroundings with several shades of earthy browns and greens. Additional details include interactive talk tubes and an age ring-tracing panel. Children are delighted to discover hidden woodland creature figurines like a squirrel and raccoon, as well as animal and plant fossils embedded in the rock climbers.
Attendance on the old playground was just an occasional visitor. Since the new playground opened in August 2015, it’s filled with children daily! They love that there’s so many cool things to do and explore. Parents also love that there’s ample shade. “This means they can stay, play and relax for a long time. The kids don’t get overheated or bored,” says Rosemarie.