Douglas Thompson, LandscapeDE
Camp Matecumbe Playground is a new nature-focused play space located on an existing 98-acre park in western Miami Dade County. The existing park includes a significant pine rockland preserve and also houses the historic Camp Matecumbe, where many children refugees escaping Castro's Cuban Revolution in the 1960's were sheltered. The new playground sits on a 2-acre portion of the park. Its location was determined by a previously developed park master plan. At the start of the project, the playground site was predominantly an unirrigated general-purpose field with a baseball backstop. It was nearly flat with very little topography. It contained a substantial stand of trees comprised almost entirely of invasive species, mostly Australian Pines (Casuarina equisetifolia) and Brazilian Peppers (Schinus terebinthifolia).
The project's scope included a playground and a parking area. The client, Miami-Dade County Parks Recreation and Open Spaces Department, asked the landscape architect to develop a play space which would blend in with the existing nature of the site, particularly with the Pine Rockland habitat. This habitat once had covered significant amounts of land in Miami-Dade County, but in recent times it has been reduced to just a few small stands.
In addition to blending with the existing nature of the adjacent preserve, our goal was to create an immersive play experience in which the play area would be intertwined with natural elements. Our approach to the design was to create a space that would inspire curiosity of natural beings and mimic the exciting explorations children might discover when playing in nature. We also sought to create a safe space that would allow children to run around freely in a large open area and explore their environment.
The new playground is defined by pathways and open spaces covered in engineered wood fiber (EWF). The woody EWF provides ASTM certified head impact safety while also providing a naturalistic feel. The play spaces and pathways intermingle with native planting islands planted with large mature specimen Live Oak trees and Slash Pine trees. The oaks for the project were carefully selected for naturalistic characters, with gnarled and twisting branches, and multiple trunks. The inclusion of mature oaks helps to create an established and natural feel while lending substantial shade for children at play, avoiding the need for artificial shade structures. The intermingling of the planting areas and the playground allows children to run through and around the spaces between the trees and evokes the sense of being within a forest environment.