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11-15-21 | Feature

Legacy Commons at Memorial Park

Patrick Wyss, FASLA, Wyss Associates, Inc.

In Rapid City, South Dakota, landscape architecture firm Wyss Associates, Inc., with Patrick Wyss, FASLA, as lead project designer, was selected by Destination Rapid City, a non-profit organization, to help manifest a playground park for all ages and abilities. Dubbed Legacy Commons at Memorial Park, the overarching strategy was to create an interpretive landscape setting that would take full advantage of local indigenous varieties, as well as species that support the interpretive and educational value of the plantings, combined with interconnected play pods intended to reveal a greater sense of place, age and group separation. Photo: Steve Babbitt Photography
The indigenous gardens display and interpret the regional landscape. Plantings include Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum), chokecherry (Prunus pennsylvanica), yucca (Yucca glauca), kinnikinnick or bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), Pasqueflower (Anemone patens), Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), Black Hills spruce (Picea glauca), gumbo evening primrose (Oenothera caespitosa), and aromatic sumac (Rhus aromatica).
One of the park's main areas, the sensory play pod, has an elevated garden, which was designed to allow wheelchair-bound children a more inclusive experience including seeing, touching and smelling the plantings and hearing the insects.
The natural play pod features a wood chip play surface sourced as a byproduct from a local wood mill. The play activities were built using durable fabricated materials (GFRC), which provided an excellent surface for these climbing rocks (patterned after natural ones found in the Black Hills) with foot and handholds that offer different levels of challenge while using creative perceptions to maintain interest.
Much of the play equipment was specified from Landscape Structures, Inc. The safety surfacing is the company's PebbleFlex.
The interactive play pod is adjacent to an urban art plaza (foreground) and a three-quarter acre Great Lawn for planned and unplanned gatherings. Features in this pod encourage interactive play with climbing, spinning, crawling, sliding, swinging and many spontaneous actions. The surface of the art plaza is charcoal-colored, 4"-thick, precast concrete along with Broadmour plank pavers.
Other features within Legacy Commons include walkways made of colored concrete, shade trees like these cottonwoods (middle, right), locally sourced, natural limestone boulders and picnic tables and benches that were custom designed by Wyss Associates and fabricated locally. The tabletops are made from precast concrete with a polish finish and have inserts of terrazzo tiles (to facilitate backgammon, checkers & chess). The bench seats were constructed from a composite material (Trex).

The private, non-profit organization, Destination Rapid City, generously gifted the community of Rapid City, South Dakota, with an enduring playground park for all ages and abilities called Legacy Commons at Memorial Park. The organization retained landscape architects Wyss Associates, Inc. to design and direct the entire project. Patrick Wyss, FASLA, lead designer on the project, describes the design of Legacy Commons as a series of unique play pods dispersed throughout an interpretive landscape setting. The intent of the design encourages users to explore and experience the park through playful discovery. When retained as the project designers, Wyss recommended the use of smaller, interconnected play areas to provide a greater sense of place, age group separation, and a sense of intimacy not found in mega-playgrounds.
The area selected for Legacy Commons was an under-utilized five-acre greenfield near the city center, accessible via urban sidewalks, an existing bike trail, a greenbelt system and adjacent extensive civic center parking facilities. No additional parking was required to support this destination park. The adjacent Promenade, concurrently designed by Wyss Associates, runs alongside Legacy Commons, providing a primary pedestrian link between the City Center, the Convention Center and Legacy Commons.
The specific features within Legacy Commons include five separately themed play pods, interconnected within separate interpretive and educational landscapes.
Sensory Play Pod
The sensory play pod is fully accessible and has an adjacent elevated garden so wheelchair bound children can see, touch, smell and feel the plantings and hear the insects. This pod primarily includes fully accessible play experiences and provides recreation for all children, including those with conditions such as mobility limitations, autism, auditory or visual impairment, down syndrome, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, spina bifida or muscle weakness.
Natural Play Pod
Themed after the regional landscape and history, this area offers many climbing, sliding and exploring opportunities. The natural wood chip play surface in this pod is sourced as a byproduct from a local wood mill. These custom play activities were built using durable fabricated materials (GFRC), providing an excellent surface for rock and rope climbing and play events. Research shows that children play longer on naturally themed play events as it gives them a sense of discovery. The rocks are designed with foot and handholds that offer different levels of challenge while using creative senses to maintain interest. The features are patterned after the natural beauty of the Black Hills.
Ages 2-5 Play Pod
With extensive active and discovery activities combined with a children's discovery garden, this pod will have more adult supervision, so a shaded bench area is provided within its boundaries for comfort. This area has events geared to the developmental and physical capabilities of the younger children and includes sensory panels which exercise children's visual, auditory, proportion perception and tactile senses. Custom rock and slide structures add to the physical play events along with climbing events and a quiet space for kids that like to be alone.
Active Play Pod
Designed to encourage physical activity by allowing players to run and shuffle and move fast in this high motion play pod, multisensory, interactive games foster movement and interaction. LED light patterns and sounds help children develop hand-eye coordination, action/reaction skills and muscles. A loop seating arrangement provides a social setting for participants, and is adjacent to sustainable landscape features, such as indigenous plantings, medicinal gardens, sustainable gardens and many more.

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Interactive Play Pod
The area provides opportunities for active social interaction and is adjacent to an urban art plaza and a three-quarter acre Great Lawn for planned and unplanned gatherings. Features in this pod encourage interactive play with climbing, spinning, crawling, sliding, swinging and many spontaneous actions. The LSI EVOS structure encourages unscripted play as users must think about how to use the equipment, promoting the use of cognitive skills, balance, motor skill development and stamina. All play events are at ground level, easily accessible to all.
Other features within Legacy Commons include adult outdoor exercise equipment, benches, shade trees, flora and fauna discovery games and interpretive displays. The landscape architecture team at Wyss Associates worked closely with the custom designers at Landscape Structures, Inc. during the detailed design of each play pod.
The plantings incorporated within Legacy Commons maximize local indigenous varieties, as well as species that support the interpretive and educational value of the plantings.
Sensory Garden
This small, raised garden, adjacent to the Inclusive Play area is designed to stimulate the senses and be appreciated by visitors of many ages and physical capabilities. Identification and interpretation are printed in brail. A sample of plantings for each include:
Sight:
• Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
• Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)
Sound:
• Wind through the existing cottonwoods
Evergold Sedge (Carex)
Smell:
• Perennial Thyme (Thymus praecox 'Highland Cream' )
• Common Yarrow (Achillea)
Touch:
• Silver Sagebrush (Artemisia cana)
• Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Taste:
• Dwarf Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata 'Peppermint Twist')
• Chives 'Grass Onion'
Indigenous Gardens
Rapid City lies within the geomorphic region of the Black Hills. Gardens in this area emphasize the area's dramatic natural landscape of the Black Hills, Badlands and Great Plains. Plantings include Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum), chokecherry (Prunus pennsylvanica) and yucca (Yucca glauca). In the Black Hills Alpine Rock Garden, visitors will find kinnikinnick, also known as bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), pasqueflower (Anemone patens), ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) and Black Hills spruce (Picea glauca). The Lewis and Clark Gardens features plants seen for the first time by European Americans such as gumbo evening primrose (Oenothera caespitosa) and aromatic sumac, aka Squaw bush (Rhus aromatica). The Medicinal Garden contains plants used traditionally by many cultures for their curative purposes including wild rose (Rosa arkansana). Various parts of it are brewed as remedy for stomach aches, sore throat and tonsillitis. And finally, the Sustainable Gardens, adjacent to the Active Play and 2-5 play pods, display plants, protect water quality, reduces runoff, reduces use of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, provides food and shelter for beneficial birds and insects, and preserves native plants such as Western wheatgrass, (Pascopyrum smithii) cool season, buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea) and purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia).
This project was 100% funded by Destination Rapid City, formed to promote downtown Rapid City to community members and visitors alike. The Rapid City Parks Department is responsible for the park's upkeep and maintenance. Rapid City dedicated the Legacy Commons playground park and the Promenade to observe South Dakota's 125th Anniversary of Statehood. Legacy Commons won a Merit Award in the Design category from the Nebraska Dakotas Chapter of ASLA.

Filed Under: ASLA, SOUTH DAKOTA, PARK, LASN
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