1505 N. Broadway
By Emily Harrington
As a stay-at-home mom, nothing excites me more than 1) nice weather and 2) new kid-oriented activities in our community. You can imagine my delight then when these two joys collided during the Busey Friendship Grove recent opening.
The Busey Friendship Grove is the overarching name for the Friendship Grove Nature Playscape that is positioned next to Busey Woods and the well-established Anita Purves Nature Center at 1505 N. Broadway Ave. in Urbana. This was all made possible thanks to the vision of the Urbana Park District (UPD). Fundraising and generous donations helped the dream become a reality.
The Friendship Grove Nature Playscape is different from other parks in our area. It was designed with a different approach to play in mind.
How many times have you said this to your kids:
“Put that stick down! It’s not a sword!”
“Don’t jump in that puddle!”
“No sandbox today! Too messy!”
Instead of discouraging a kid to make a mess and play with sticks and mud, this park encourages that sort of interactive sensory play. In fact, there’s a sign at the entrance encouraging just that—the unrules.
Touch it all.
Leave everything here.
Leave pets at home.
Be respectful of others.
Use rocks and sticks for creating—not for throwing or fighting.
Explore. Pretend. Make friends. Be safe. Have fun!
It doesn’t look like a traditional park either. By definition, a nature playscape is a living place that allows a child to play freely. In fact, Homer Lake has an established naturescape—read about it! You won’t see metal equipment or plastic slides here. Rather, natural materials are used to create areas to feed a child’s imagination. It works, too.
According to the UPD, this unique and interactive naturescape engages children of all ages (climbing features are intended for ages 5-12) in imaginative and active outdoor play. Together, you and your children are immersed in nature as you comfortably explore, experiment, socialize and manipulate the environment. The naturescape provides a multitude of accessible play opportunities for a variety of physical, mental, cognitive and emotional abilities.
The UPD created the natural play setting for kids because of the positive evidence supporting regular contact with nature:
- increased physical activity
- improved creativity and problem solving
- enhanced ability to focus
- reduced symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder
- better academic performance
- better social relations
- improved self-control
We have been to the naturescape quite a few times. Each time we visited we saw something new, for children had changed the landscape of the area through play. By nature, the playscape will continue to grow, decompose and change over time. Stump chairs had been moved, loose toys had been gathered and bridges or lean-tos had been erected. Also, each time there were more and more people discovering the beauty of the naturescape—including busloads of school kids.
The entrance is a metal arbor adorned with hidden animals. The arbor leads you on a wide path dotted with benches. There are picnic tables, too. Make sure to hang your jacket or coat on one of the provided hooks on your way in. On the way out, there’s an apparatus to free your feet of mud. The beauty of the naturescape is this—everything looks like it belongs in nature. The arbor, the chairs, the mud scraper—all are made from wood and well designed to flow with the naturescape.
There are four main features or “anchor pieces.” Additional play features that will change with the seasons are scattered throughout, too. The four more permanent pieces are the fort, fallen tree, digging area and tunnel. My son and his cousin spent most of their time simply jumping from one tree stump to the next. These stumps are everywhere. To our kiddos they provided protection from molten lava. To other kids they were tables to cook and serve food from the kitchen area.
You’ll find various toys scattered everywhere. Everything is up to the child to interpret what they want to do with the space. Girls could host a tea party, and the boys can create a makeshift teepee out of the wide variety of sticks. Or vice versa! It’s a paradise for boys, and it’s a dreamland for girls. Just don’t wear good/open-toed shoes (or clothes). It’s all about getting your hands dirty here. The messier—the better!
Take your crew for a visit to this unique spot. It’s far from the plastic and metal parks we are all familiar with. Make a day of it—it’s open sunrise to sunset. This entire area has become a haven for families. If the weather is bad, visit the Anita Purves Nature Center, if it’s pleasant, visit Busey Woods or Busey Friendship Grove. (Use the bathrooms at the nature center as there are none outside.) And if it’s too hot to do anything else, go for a swim at Crystal Lake Park Family Aquatic Center. They are all in the same alcove, and they are all worth the trip. There is plenty of close parking, however, beware the days when the pool is packed!
The UPD is still accepting loose parts for play. You can donate items like clothespins, wicker baskets or butterfly nets. Donations are accepted Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the nature center’s open hours.
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie. She left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job in communications so that she could be a 24/7 mom to two busy boys. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life because she fell for a fellow townie. Emily usually finds herself engulfed in balls, blue and belly laughs.