Top 10 Nature Play Parks
A parent’s guide to discovering nature in Boulder’s urban parks
What is “nature play”?
Nature play in the City of Boulder’s urban parks is interaction with the natural environment that allows for hands-on contact, exploration, contemplation, play and education. Nature play can take several forms, in natural area parks and greenways off-trail, in traditional play areas that incorporate or emulate natural materials and processes, and even in our own backyards!
Why is it important?
“ I like to play indoors better 'cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”
- A fourth-grader in San Diego
Across the nation, local and state agencies, schools, non-profits, community organizations and families are working together as part of a national movement to reconnect children with nature. This movement was sparked by the 2005 publication of Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, which revealed the dramatic decline in children’s exposure to and engagement with nature today. Youth’s increased time spent indoors has proven to have wide-ranging detrimental effects, which Louv summarizes as “nature-deficit disorder”.
This concept identifies the human costs of alienation from the outdoors, which include higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses. This is of growing importance to Boulder Parks and Recreation Department (BPRD) as Colorado’s youth are increasingly sedentary. State childhood obesity rates were 14.2 percent in 2009, an increase of 4.3 percent from 2007.
In addition, emerging research shows that increased exposure to nature has a number of positive impacts such as improvement in a child’s academic performance, concentration, balance, coordination, creativity, critical thinking skills, and self-esteem. Lastly, creating a genuine connection with the natural environment at a young age is vital to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards.
For upcoming nature play opportunities, please visit the Nature Play web page for a list of activities and events.
For more ways to engage kids in nature play, please visit the Open Space and Mountain Parks Department’s Connect Kids to Nature web page for ideas and resources.
Top 10 Nature Play Parks
Boulder Reservoir is a 700-acre, multi-use recreation and water-storage facility, owned and managed by the City of Boulder.
This small, secluded playground provides breathtaking views of the Flatirons and one of the best playgrounds in Boulder’s urban parks.
Wonderland Lake Park is a scenic neighborhood park nestled in North Boulder with plenty of open space, water access and trails.
The pond is an old University of Colorado gravel pit that was converted into a children's pond in 1949 by the Boulder Fish and Game Club.
Coot Lake is scenic with mountain views, a dirt path around the lake with wildlife viewing opportunities.
Eben G. Fine Park contains portions of the Boulder Creek and Boulder Creek Path with a variety of recreational amenities.
Emma Gomez Martinez Park is a bike-accessible, neighborhood park located on Canyon Boulevard with a newly-renovated playground.
Columbine Park is a recently renovated neighborhood park featuring natural playground structures, a tennis court, and a rectangular field.
Aurora 7 Park is a neighborhood park located adjacent to Boulder Community School of Integrated Studies.
Foothills Community Park features facilities and recreational amenities including fields for programmed sports and unique playgrounds.
Louv, R. (2008). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. New York, New York: Workman Publishing.
Larimer County, Colorado. (2012). Plug into nature: Finding connections to the outdoors for youth and families in Larimer County. Larimer County, Colorado.
Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District Natural Resources Department. (2012). Natural play area guidelines. Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District.
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity. (2012). Colorado State Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity Profile. State of Colorado. http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/stateprograms/fundedstates/pdf/colorado-state-profile.pdf