by Miles Becker
The Village Green in Eastsound could be sprouting its very own mountain this summer. Or give rise to an island chain similar to the San Juan archipelago.
Those two design concepts are the top options for a play area coming to the Green. Islanders are encouraged to comment at an Eastsound open house on Feb. 11 at the Eastsound Fire Station from 2:30-4 p.m. and 6-7:30 p.m. Design layouts can be viewed in advance online at https://www.sanjuanco.com/1587/Eastsound-Village-Green-Play-Area-Design.
Volunteers and donors interested in helping with the play area installation and maintenance can contact EPRC member Ken Katz at email@example.com.
Dedicating open space to kids originated from the vision process for updates to the County Comprehensive Plan. Respondents to a 2017 survey strongly supported an outdoor feature specifically for young children and families on Orcas. Eastsound Planning and Review Committee co-chair Paul Kamin thought the project made sense because “there’s just a lack of accessible public playground space in the Eastsound core.”
Kamin and other committee members wanted the development to harmonize with the existing feel of the Green. The stage and surrounding art installations distinctly represent aspects of the local landscape and history. Rather than build a generic conventional playground, Kamin said the play area would “not be a metal and plastic, primary colors kind of thing. This is a natural materials-based playground.”
Finding inspiration for a nature-based play area came about serendipitously. While visiting family in Portland, Oregon, Katz saw kids having fun at the Westmoreland Park Nature play area. The Portland-based design firm behind it, Greenworks, will now be bringing their success with other municipal projects to Orcas.
One key to the firm’s success is using play areas to connect kids to nature in a scaled-down natural landscape.
“We tend towards natural heritage because it is universally appealing to everyone,” said Ben Johnson, a landscape architect at Greenworks. Johnson can envision kids “island hopping” from rock mound to rock mound in a sea of wood chips in Eastsound. The other design option being considered, constructing a boulder and log “mountain,” would similarly create more topography in the relatively flat Village Green.
Topography is one defining characteristic of Orcas Island. Mimicking it in the design “creates a lot of play and visual interest,” said Johnson. Although intended for 2- to 12-year olds, the play area would also offer seating for parents to enjoy watching their kids’ unstructured play from the periphery. The 2,000-square-foot play area site will be in the northeast corner of the Village Green, near the Sea View Theatre and underneath the large willow tree, which will be preserved.
The design will be finalized after the EPRC, Greenworks and San Juan County Parks receive feedback from adults and kids at the open house. Installation is expected to be finished by the end of June with funding from a $55,000 lodging tax grant and volunteer labor. County parks will maintain the area in the future as one of their facilities.
The Feb. 11 meeting will also give Kamin a chance to demonstrate how the project is “an enhancement to the community that does a good job of serving both visitors and residents.”