Children's Nature Playscape on Kalamazoo's Bronson Park moves ahead with groundbreaking ceremony

Nearly 100 people gathered in support of the formal groundbreaking March 22 of the Children’s Nature Playscape on Bronson Park, a new playground that eventually will be one of the largest natural playscapes in an urban core.

The project began in 2019 when the First Congregational Church funded the purchase of the property and necessary site preparation at the 130-foot square greenspace at 302 Academy Street.

The new park, slated to open later this summer, is a nature-inspired space that will give kids natural features such as rocks and trees to climb, water, and logs to traverse — right in downtown Kalamazoo.  

Jody Brylinsky, Children’s Nature Playscape on Bronson Park Steering Committee chair, says: “We had a great groundbreaking ceremony, in spite of the damp and cold weather.”

Invitees were on hand to lift their shovels in celebration of the Playscape groundbreaking.Brylinski says construction work on the infrastructure began in March, but added that weather and construction delays make progress slow.

“We are still hoping for a soft opening this summer,” she says.

The concept of a natural park for kids is based on the need for nature, even in a city setting.

“All cultures have an inherent link to nature,” Brylinsky says. “We’re designing a place for children to gather and experience the joy of making that connection.”

Equity of access to nature is a core principle of this project, according to Brylinsky. “The playscape will be free to the public,” she says. “It will be intentionally inclusive, comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and be barrier-free. Children and families of all abilities and backgrounds will come there to learn, grow and play together.”

Playscape features include an accessible paved walkway, log benches for children, and artistic benches for adults. Native tall grass, shrubs and other plants will border the site, which will also include play structures, turf and a pondless stream. 

Cost of the first phase of the Children’s Nature Playscape is estimated at $1.2 million, with $1 million raised to date. Area foundations, nonprofit agencies and local donors provided additional support after the property was purchased.

Jody Brylinsky, Children’s Nature Playscape on Bronson Park Steering Committee chair, addresses those gathered to celebrate the Playscape groundbreaking.Roughly $3,500 was raised last November on Giving Tuesday, money earmarked for the All-Ages Sensory Garden in the new Children’s Nature Playscape. 

The All-Ages Sensory Garden will feature special fencing that children enter through a secret gate. The garden’s surfaces, objects, and plants will stimulate the senses through touch, sight, scent, and hearing. Visually challenged children will get a feel of trees and shrubs identified by markers written in Braille and English. Priority will be given to plants, shrubs, and grasses that are native to West Michigan, especially those with cultural significance to the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians. 

Brylinski says the committee continues to work on creating  a list of program partners. “We will be joining several other organizations for Earth Day in April and hope to participate in the Doo Da Parade this summer,” she says.

You can read more on the project here.

About Children’s Nature Playscape

The Children’s Nature Playscape is a project of the First Congregational Church of Kalamazoo, Michigan, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. All gifts and contributions are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. The Children’s Nature Playscape Steering Committee oversees the development and operations of the Children’s Nature Playscape. Steering Committee members represent leading community partners, including the First Baptist Church, Kalamazoo Nature Center, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and numerous community youth and service organizations.

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Read more articles by Rosemary Parker.

Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years, most of that time in Southwest Michigan.