‘It’s amazing:’ Children’s Nature Playscape opens in Kalamazoo

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Annemarie Garber received a text message Friday morning from a friend telling her to check out the new playground next to Bronson Park. So she and her two little ones – aged 2 and 4 – went to see for themselves.

They were amazed, she said.

“They liked the water. They liked the sand. All loved. So that’s great,” Garber said. “He will be a regular for us. They are having fun like crazy. My son is soaked.

At 11:30 a.m., the Children’s Nature Playscape on Academy Street opened with dozens of children pushing open the doors and running inside to play.

Lincoln Morin-Kabell and Timothy Letcher, nine, said they both love the jungle gym.

Mila Mosley, 5, came with her family and said the sand and water were her favorite parts.

When asked how much fun she was having, she said “like a million percent”.

“It’s more for the community. It’s more for kids. It gives them something more to do,” his father Mathew Mosley said of the playing landscape. “I think it’s really beautiful. I think it’s great how they set it up, you know, it’s right in the middle of town where everything is.

The playscape features a jungle gymnasium, tree stumps, logs, sand, a small pond, and a stream. The First Congregational Church of Kalamazoo, which owns the property, said everything was meant to reflect nature to encourage children to have fun with nature.

And, it gives kids a place to play when they come to Bronson Park, Howard Tejchma said.

”We have a children’s museum [that’s] on the inside. We have a library, great. But where can the children be outside? With things that are designed for them and provide a creative space they can engage with? said Tejchma, the moderator of the church. “There are so few other places that even have a stream running through them like we have here in this natural children’s playscape.”

The property sat vacant for years, next to the church. FOX 17 reported in 2019 that there were rumors condos would be built on the land but the church was fighting to buy it. They ultimately did this with the goal of turning it into something kid-focused.

“We care about a lot of things, but we really said we care about the kids. We stay in our church – for free – The Kalamazoo Child Care Center. It’s so unique in the country, let alone the state of Michigan, where families in need can enjoy free, safe, and educational child care for their children because they have to go to work. [or] doctor’s appointment,” said Kristi Droppers, who leads the communications team at the church. “It’s like the second part of that. We care about the children in our community. It is a safe place for children, [ages] 2-10, to play with their parents, you know, unbuilt games and imaginative games.

Droppers said the church raised more than $1,000,000 to buy the land and build the playscape. She said $600,000 was still needed for labor and additional construction like a stage. show and a climbing wall.

However, she and Tejchma were impressed with how it went so far and were proud of the fruits of their labor.

“It’s moving to see what happened to this property, from an abandoned building that really had no hope of resurrecting into a property for the children of Kalamazoo. It’s transformational in every aspect,” Tejchma said. “It came together because so many people cared about this idea of ​​a gamescape in Kalamazoo.”

Garber said she was grateful and happy it was just five minutes from her home.

“You don’t have access to that stuff. We have to drive 45 minutes to get access to sand and water. So that’s huge,” Garber said. “It’s also very important for their early development. I’m a pre-school teacher. So I know the value of this kind of property. This is amazing.”

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