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City Unveils Plans for All-Natural Playground at Cascades Park

An interactive children’s play area will be part of Cascades Park when it opens next spring. On Monday, the city of Tallahassee announced the play area will be called Discovery, and it will be entirely funded by private donors.

The Discovery area is to include climbing logs, a butterfly garden and an outdoor classroom. Tallahassee City Commissioner Gil Ziffer says Discovery is designed to encourage imaginative and active play.

“Kids like to learn, they like to have fun, and if we can sneak some exercise in there, all the better," he says.

Discovery’s designer, Meghan Mick, says she used all-natural materials in unconventional ways. Instead of a jungle gym, there’s a climbable Cypress tree. And kids won’t be getting up to the top of the slide in the usual way.

“So, instead of having a ladder reach a slide, you actually have a hill, so there’s lots of ways to interact with that space, obviously: You can run and climb and roll," she says.

Mick’s 6-year-old son, Kasey, contributed his ideas for Discovery, too.

“I had an idea of a giant water slide," he says.

The water slide didn’t make the cut, but there will be an interactive water pump and a sandy beach. The Knight Creative Communities Institute developed Discovery with $100,000 in private funding from First Commerce Credit Union and in-kind donations from other businesses. First Commerce CEO Cecilia Homison says she’s excited to sponsor the play area at Cascades Park.

“It’s an opportunity to bring something in the way of revitalization to the Downtown corridor, a park that will bring in the arts and festivals, just a wonderful gathering place for families in our community," she says.

At the unveiling, Tallahassee Mayor John Marks, surrounded by school-age children, said the Discovery play area fits perfectly with the city’s goal to encourage healthier lifestyles for its children.

“As the country tries to cope with obesity epidemic in children," he said, "Tallahassee’s newest park will encourage them to get outdoors."

Discovery and the rest of Cascades Park are scheduled to open in the spring of 2013. The 24-acre downtown park will sit on a site formerly plagued by toxic coal tar from an old manufactured gas plant and contaminants from a landfill. Cleanup of the site and construction of the park have been ongoing since 2005, with public and private funding. The park will be bordered by Pensacola Street on the north and Monroe Street on the southwest.