Summer Street Park gets new, revamped look

The new design for the park seeks to encourage interaction with nature. Photo by Jeff Li.

The new design for the park seeks to encourage interaction with nature. Photo by Jeff Li.

The Summer Street Park will be getting a new look this summer, thanks to a grant from the Poweshiek County Alliance. As part of the revitalization of the park, new structures will be built around the concept of “natural playscapes.”

The park effort, at the intersection of Third Avenue and Summer Street, is being spearheaded by Imagine Grinnell, a group dedicated to community rejuvenation and improvement.

“The PCA grant is money that comes from the state to counties that don’t have gambling casinos,” said Sarah Smith, Imagine Grinnell’s executive director.

“It is money available for the county to go towards programs that encourage people to go outside, recreational programs and community building,” Smith said.

Imagine Grinnell hopes that the money will help update and make the Summer Street Park more integrated with the outdoors.

“We wrote this grant to fund two more play features in the natural playscape that weren’t in our original budget,” Smith said.

The money will go towards a climbing wall and slide embankment, which will be built into the side of the hill at the park. The idea of a natural playscape is what makes the Summer Street Park so unique in the area.

“We really love this park in town, it’s a unique, different park for kids to not feel like the playground is separate from what’s already there nature-wise, it’s really the two working together,” Smith said.

The Summer Street Park was outdated prior to the current revamping.

“For me personally, I used to play down there as a child. There’s very mature trees, there’s a creek running through it,” Smith said.

The park is the only one in Grinnell with a creek, and additionally one of the only ones in the area.

The natural playscape component means that the park is free of any bright colors or outwardly unnatural materials. With structures like the slide, the goal is to bring kids back to nature and really feel that they are a part of the world around them.

“[We want] to encourage kids to be outside, work and play with natural things, create, imagine with natural surroundings,” Smith said.

The designer of the park, Tony Malkusak of Iowa City, owns a playscape company that has designed parks all over Iowa.

“The first thing we did was take kids out to the park and gave them different things to play with and see what they did,” Smith said.

Based on the observations made, the designer moved forward with a better idea of how kids interact with materials.

“It was seeing what kids would do and using that creativity to create this park,” Smith said.

The idea for a natural playscape came from community members sitting on the board of Imagine Grinnell, including Professor Liz Queathem, Biology. After visiting a natural playscapes park outside of Des Moines, Queathem enthusiastically brought the idea up to Imagine Grinnell.

Grinnell students can get involved by volunteering at the park today from 1 to 5 p.m. and Saturday, April 25 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 to 5 p.m.

“We have plenty of shovels and tools for people to use,” Smith said. “We need levels from somebody shoveling sand into a play pit to somebody working a circular saw.”

For Imagine Grinnell, their larger goal is to improve life in Grinnell.

“The hope is to really make it a better place to live, to make it better for the people here in Grinnell and then also to attract people to come and live here,” Smith said. “We want this to be a thriving community that encourages families to come and live, but also for people to get outside and exercise and enjoy nature.”