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The Welles Park project is unique in its design and features six small hills and much more.
The Welles Park project is unique in its design and features six small hills and much more. Photo Chicago Park District

An open play space, full of hidden nooks, climbing challenges and buzzing wildlife to open on June 16 

The Chicago Park District and local community officials today announced the grand opening of the Welles Park Nature Play Space during a Lincoln Square neighborhood celebration.  Construction of the 1.23 acre nature area, nestled in Welles Park, brings the Chicago Park District one step closer to achieving the goal of creating 2,020 designated natural areas by 2020. This objective is part of Building on Burnham, the Mayor's comprehensive plan to invest in recreation along the city’s lakefront, the Chicago River, natural areas and neighborhoods across the city. The park is located at 2333 W. Sunnyside Ave.

This project is one of seven nature-based play areas designed to provide valuable outdoor space for positive, hands-on nature experiences in neighborhood parks. Nature play spaces include various hardscapes and play elements aimed at promoting spontaneous free play by children. The area will also be utilized for nature programming for residents of all ages.

“There is enormous value in reimagining park spaces to reconnect kids to nature and inspire heathy living,” said Chicago Park District Superintendent and CEO Michael P. Kelly. “With support from residents that realize the significance of investing in our natural areas, the Park District is committed to revitalizing our green spaces to create innovative opportunities for everyone to enjoy nature in our urban landscapes.” 

The Welles Park project is unique in its design and features six small hills, a tree circle council ring, a log balancing course, log steppers, a climbing stone, a mud kitchen, a build wall, a tree climber, sensory bins, and sensory garden raised beds. Stumps, sticks, tree cookies, native trees, shrubs and prairie and woodland plant species round out the project. These elements, placed throughout the space, aim to inspire nature-based exploration and fun for all.

The remaining play features, plantings and other project components are scheduled to be installed in the Fall. Funding for the $179,000 nature-based recreation area was provided by the Chicago Park District, the Park Advisory Council, Alderman Pawar and NRPA grant funding. 

In 2017, the project designed by Site Design Group, ltd. with input from the Welles Park Greening Committee was selected as a winner of the national “Meet Me at the Park” campaign. Welles Park received a $20,000 grant from the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) and The Walt Disney Company, including Disney Citizenship, Disney|ABC Television Group and ESPN.

The Welles Park Nature Play Space project was one of 16 park improvement projects selected through a public online voting process to receive grant funding. 
 
Earlier this year, the Chicago Park District announced an in-kind grant program to support the expansion of a Nature Play initiative citywide.  Park advisory councils and community groups were encouraged to apply for support to build or expand a nature play space in their park. Chicago Park District will provide grants to 10 projects, with grant funding support of up to $10,000. Nature Play areas are managed with a goal of at least 50 percent native plant coverage that provides habitat benefits for local wildlife as well as educational benefits for kids. The Park District partners with community groups to fund and maintain the spaces.  The new grant program aims to aid groups at any stage of the nature play space process including design, installation, maintenance, and training. Additional information is available at https://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/nature-play-spaces.