Submitted by Northwest Trek Wildlife Park
Children came by the thousands to play outdoors in the sun at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park’s new nature-inspired playground on a gorgeous spring Saturday. And it was one for the books.
The $1.9 million Kids’ Trek grand opening over the weekend helped set a one-day attendance record at the wildlife park.
A total of 3,122 visitors poured through the gates Saturday, breaking a 41-year-old record set in August of 1975, the year Northwest Trek opened. That count was 3,055
Another 2,424 people visited the wildlife park on Sunday, making the Grand Opening Weekend a smashing success.
Metro Parks Tacoma Board of Park Commissioners President Erik Hanberg set the stage for the “ribbon” cutting, holding fast to the hand of his almost 4-year-old daughter, Hannah. The Northwest Trek mascot, Footloose Moose, stood behind them.
Northwest Trek Foundation Board President Doug Olmstead stood nearby, representing the nonprofit group that oversaw the successful fundraising effort for the playground.
Hanberg told a crowd assembled for the 10:00 a.m. opening that his daughter enjoys playing outdoors and running on the beach and that he was certain she would soon fall in love with Kids’ Trek — as would thousands of other children.
It only took a few minutes for that prediction to come true. Hanberg and Hannah — aided by Footloose — cut a “ribbon” of intertwined vines and other foliage with a pair of bright gold hedge shears.
Once the gate was opened, children of all ages rushed in with their parents. Squeals of delight and the melodious sounds of children’s laughter soon filled the mild spring air.
“It was a historic occasion for Northwest Trek,” Deputy Director Alan Varsik said at the close of the record-setting day. “Not only did we see the largest crowd in our history, we opened the biggest single capital project in the wildlife park’s 41 years.”
Kids’ Trek was largely funded by grants from the Northwest Trek Foundation and donations from companies and individuals, Varsik said.
Three-quarters of the $1.9 million construction cost came from those sources, he added. About $325,000 of the total was from a Metro Parks bond issue approved by voters in 2014.
The half-acre Kids’ Trek is one of the largest outdoor playgrounds in the state. It’s also one of a kind, with every feature custom built to complement the conservation mission of the wildlife park. And in the words of one young visitor, it’s the best playground “in the whole, entire universe.”
Kids’ Trek has features that invite kids to side, climb, splash, build, explore and imagine on, in and around play structures ranging from child-sized log cabins to a large sandbox with a “weeping rock” to a 100-foot stream that falls over rocks and meanders under a beaver lodge. There are nets to climb up and down both inside and outside of the 20-foot-tall tree trunk. And there’s a construction area where kids can use large, smooth sticks to become natural engineers, employing teamwork to construct their own beaver-style lodges, forts and other imaginative creations. The play area also includes three slides, and one of them takes participants through a dark tunnel with a 30-degree bend.
As they play, children will learn more about the natural world. For example, elk tracks embedded in a concrete pathway are surrounded by smaller – and more numerous – wolf tracks. They depict the story of a pack of predators and their prey. Kids also can study plant leaf prints embedded in the pathways and try to identify them by their appearance.
Kids’ Trek is a just-right play space for children from toddlers to tweens. It is ADA accessible, and there are activities for children of many differing ages and abilities.
And, in keeping with the wildlife park’s leadership in conservation, the construction of Kids’ Trek employed a number of sustainable building and landscaping practices. A “green roof” of growing plants adorns the top of a pump house for the recirculating stream system. More than 600 sword ferns were carefully dug up to make way for the playground, cared for while it was built and then replanted as part of the new landscape.
Scattered around the play area are more than 60 benches milled from lumber derived from trees that needed removal from the wildlife park’s 435-acre Free-Roaming area because they were downed by nature, hazardous or dying. The benches provide perfect spots for parents to watch the play from the sidelines — or for weary children to take a brief break from play.
A picnic shelter, also built mostly of treecycled lumber, sits ready for parties or other special events. Kids will love celebrating their birthdays at an awesome playground. Rental information is available at www.nwtrek.org/birthdays.
Northwest Trek is open Mondays through Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
For more information, go to www.nwtrek.org/kidstrek.