Village Green is home to nature-based playground

From start to finish, it was a true island undertaking.

An unused corner of the Village Green, formerly home to blackberry bushes and dumpsters, has been transformed into a nature-based playground with massive glacial rocks, cedar logs and a custom slide.

The project was initiated by Orcas parents and overseen by the Playground-on-the-Green Committee — Dan Burke, Chuck Greening, Paul Kamin, David Kau, Ken Katz, Zackarya Leck, Mark Mayer, Pete Moe, Margaret Payne and Donna Wuthnow — in partnership with San Juan County Parks, San Juan County Public Works and the Orcas Island Community Foundation.

“It was a citizen project from the beginning,” said Payne, who is also a San Juan County Parks Commissioner. “We persisted!”

Planning started in the spring of 2018 and the playground opened this past July 4th weekend. All are invited to a dedication ceremony on Saturday, Aug. 14 at noon.

The design was created by Greenworks of Portland, Oregon and mimics what children might find in the woods or on the beach: rocks to climb, logs to scramble and sand to mold. It was built around a decades-old heritage willow tree and also features a sculptural slide, designed and constructed by Zackarya Leck.

“The nature-based design encourages kids to build confidence in assessing risk and supports their coordination, orientation, and social skills,” according to Payne.

Two key players in the construction were Mayer, who gave his time as project manager, and Greening, who is a landscape artist. Fifteen years ago, Greening and Kau, an architect, were instrumental in the design and building of the Stage-on-the-Green, which the new play area is meant to complement.

Greening and Greening, LLC broke ground on the playground on Feb. 12, 2020, and Chuck’s son Axel and employee Matt Hamilton (who also helped build the green’s stage) were his right-hand workers on site. In addition, Chuck’s wife Marguerite helped with tree selection and their daughter Birdie volunteered her time. Orcas Island parent Leah Johnson and her 9-year-old daughter Sydney Larsen acted as consultants on the playground’s features.

“Sydney advised me on everything and I took it very seriously. She pretty much got her way!” Chuck laughed.

Dozens of volunteers donated countless hours to planning, fundraising and execution of the project. Local businesses gave in-kind donations and hundreds of islanders donated money. The total cost was $155,000. Major funding sources included a $55,000 SJC Lodging Tax Grant; $25,000 from two Give Orcas campaigns; $21,500 from Joe Cohen and Martha Farish for the slide; $8,000 from Island Market for the benches built by Mark Mayer; a $5,000 Ginny Lu Woods Legacy Grant for a water fountain and bottle-filling station; a $5,000 anonymous donation for the large platform rock and $2,500 from OICF for landscape trees in honor of its 25th Anniversary. The remainder of the cost was provided by private donations to county parks and OICF.

The Port of Orcas and Moran State Park provided giant cedar trees, and West Sound Lumber milled, treated and stored the logs. Camp Orkila gave most of the glacial rocks; Island Excavating donated rocks; Rainshadow Consulting pruned the willow tree; Eastsound Water Users Association installed the drinking fountain; Bathan Shaner re-sited the gravel road on the Green; Orcas Freight delivered trees; Clyde Duke stored boulders on his nearby property; Orcas Recycling/Exchange donated dumping and materials; Kenmore Air and Kangaroo House gave flights and housing for the playground designer; and Cory Harrington of Permit Resources facilitated obtaining the building permit.

Payne said the response from children and adults since the site’s opening has been “fabulous.”

“You don’t have to ask. Just stand and watch the kids enjoy it,” she said.

Colleen Smith/staff photo

Colleen Smith/staff photo