Neighbors to decide on the best “nature play space” for Welles Park

By Patrick Butler

wellespark3The first of a series of two – possibly three – community meetings on a new “nature-based” play area at Welles Park, 2333 W. Sunnyside Ave., began with an April 30 brainstorming session.

Some 30 parents and their kids told Wells Park Supervisor Becky Kliber, project coordinator Kathleen Soler and Angela Tillges of the parks’ Culture, Arts and Nature Department  what they like to do, then fired off suggestions for improvements.

Soler and Tillges asked the adults what they liked to do when they were kids – and the kids how they like to play.

Not surprisingly, sledding, climbing, building snow forts, and just plain random playing topped the list of the children’s preferences, while adults wanted whatever gets built to be “senior friendly.”

“It seems like everyone wants a nature-focused play space,” said Kliber after the results of the “brainstorming” session were in.

wellespark4The next step, she said, will be to compile notes from the meeting and send them to a landscape architect, who will compile a preliminary design for consideration at a follow-up meeting.

Because “we haven’t actually hired a landscape architect yet, we don’t have an exact date” for that meeting.  “But the goals are to have this (job) started in early to mid-June before day camp starts,” with groundbreaking tentatively set for early fall, Kliber said.

“One of the things we discussed earlier but won’t do anything about until we get this going is to work with local artists,” she added.

A man in the audience said the job is more challenging than it might at first appear.

After all, he said “we have to design this with everyone in mind because we have so many different kinds of families in this neighborhood.

wellespark1“My gut says to move more toward the natural.  Less artificiality.”

“And remember, this space is going to be here in the fall and winter, so we have to think accordingly,” Kliber told the neighborhood residents.

In the meantime, the Park District staff said parents and other concerned citizens can look at the possibilities by checking out the “nature play spaces” at Indian Boundary, West Ridge, the “Walking Stick Woods” at North Park Nature Village, and the Play and Grow Garden at the West Side’s Garfield Park Conservatory.

Although other parks are undoubtedly looking at possible upgrades, Welles is probably ahead of the game if only because the Park District has already committed $50,000 to the project and the Wells Park Advisory Council has promised to raise at least $20,000, Kliber said.

“We’ve already raised $15,000 and we don’t even have our plan yet,” she added.

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