Its opening delayed, natural playground in Portland's Deering Oaks Park still inspired

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PORTLAND — After a month’s delay, crews are back to work on a new creative play-scape in Deering Oaks Park.

City spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said the project was originally scheduled to be complete by July 1, but a nearly month-long delay brought on by a rainy June pushed the finish date to mid-August. 

The new play area is near the tennis courts and softball field. It’s being named after William A. Goodwin, a former city engineer who designed the park. It will incorporate natural elements such as tree stumps and rocks into two traditional playgrounds, one for kids ages 2-5 and another for kids 5-15.

The old wooden playground was removed last fall and is being refurbished by city workers for a new play area at the end of Westbrook Street in the Stroudwater neighborhood. 

“Stroudwater has been in need of a playground for many years,” Clegg said. “This is an exciting outcome for that neighborhood.”

The new Deering Oaks play area is expected to cost $325,000. 

Parks and Open Space manager Thomas Civiello said the project is being funded through the city’s Capital Improvement Plan, which relies on borrowed money, as well as Housing and Community Development funds, which typically come in the form of grants. Meanwhile, city crews are doing most of the earthwork, which is holding down costs. 

As of Monday, crews had made considerable progress on a hilly adventure area consisting of large granite blocks and logs.

Landscape architect Regina Leonard said there are plans for a sand play area and a rock beach exploration area with pea stones, both of which will encourage children to explore their natural surroundings. 

“The idea is when kids go to Kettle Cove they spend hours and hours looking for shells and different glass,” she said. “We’re trying to create something like that at the playground.”

Both the sand and rock areas will be filled with smooth sea glass and shells, which Leonard said will be safe for children. She hopes use of the areas evolve to a point that kids can take home what they find, while parents and community members can refill the areas with new natural pieces, like shells. 

Leonard said there will also be a 12-foot slide built into the hillside. A trail will start at the end of the slide, leading children back up the hillside through a course of granite steps. There is also a performance area designed to face a hillside natural amphitheater slated for the park. 

Leonard said there will also be a planted grove of evergreen trees that will eventually become the home of a fairy forest, where kids can build fairy houses using downed limbs. That feature may not be ready for another 10 years, though.

“To create that area, we really need mature trees,” she said. “It may take 10 years before the trees are big enough to do that.”

As a landscape architect, Leonard said the most exciting part of the project is using recycled material, like old granite stones and tree trunks and logs, and being able to work closely with the construction crews to make spontaneous decisions.

“We’ve actually created a new land form.” Leonard said. “For me, it helps create a comfortable scale in the park. We were able to take a flat area that was a little dwarfed by the hillside and faded away into the tennis court area (and) we’ve been able to make that area into a destination.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or

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DeeringOaks.jpgConstruction on a new $325,000 play area in Deering Oaks Park, originally planned to open in July, has been delayed by wet weather. (Billings photo)