Home > Design the Details, Ecological Design, Editorial, Guest Writer, Parks and Recreation > Designing to let the magical play happen

Designing to let the magical play happen

Creating MAGICAL Natural Areas in Traverse City Neighborhood Parks

Guest Post written by Sarah Naperala, Traverse City resident and supporter of improved neighborhood parks and natural areas.

I grew up leaving my home for the day to play in the woods and stroll on paths to magnificent castles.  There were strategic hideouts built to spy on my brother’s tree fort. I was blessed with super powers which I used to rescue my many “friends” in the wood lot.  My forts and castles were made of stumps, dropped tree branches, fallen leaves, rocks, pine boughs. Having all of these natural elements at my finger tips sparked my imagination day after day. Year after year.  It was magical!

As an adult, we live and are raising our kids in beautiful Traverse City. We can ride bikes to school and ice cream trucks (and bikes) arrive on the neighborhood streets in the summer. Still, our city kids should still have magical natural areas to explore and imagine within a safe walk from home.

We live in Orchard Heights on the east side of town. There is a neighborhood park that has the potential to be a magical place for kids and neighbors of all ages.  Parks bring community together to play. Old friends meet and catch up on the latest or meet new neighbors. Other times, a park is good to simply get away and enjoy a book, stretch the legs, watch wildlife, throw a ball, and, sometimes, to build a magical castle of branches, stumps, and leaves.

Traverse City has a chance to create a place full of enjoyment for the neighborhoods surrounding Clancy Park. Together, working with the City, our neighbors designed a park plan for Clancy Park. The plan sits and waits as part of the city’s capital improvement plan. A process that seems to perpetually push projects 5-years out. This can be frustrating as I watch my children grow before my eyes. The City’s budget is tight and if I thought our park was going to get fully upgraded any time soon I’d really be living in my magical world having a conversation with my long forgotten imaginary friends.

However, there is a glimmer of hope for a small part of that plan. Part of the Clancy Park plan includes one area for the creation of a native natural area, which over the long run will save the city money – no mowing, and less maintenance. Currently, this area has towering ash trees which are infested with the emerald ash borer and are dead or dying. The city has a grant to support the removal of these ash trees this month and to purchase new trees for planting this fall. Hallelujah!  But what will the city do with the ash trees?

The city’s opportunity is to save additional money and use the ash trees in support of creating the natural area /natural playscape. The City can then showcase the concept of transforming a manicured city lawn into a magical neighborhood natural area with paths, tree branches to build forts, stumps to climb on, and logs to hide behind.


We’ve been advocating for the City to reduce the lawn-space to mow, and to reuse and recycle the ash trees to create the natural area. We are asking for them to wood-chip the ash tress for paths and to enrich the soil for future understory growth, leave the stumps, leave logs on the ground, bury some of the logs for stepping paths, leave snags for our current resident woodpeckers, and finally, leave some branches and vegetation for wildlife habitat and magical forts.  Innovation is at the city’s finger tips.

Are they curious about trying something new that will inspire magical experiences for generations to follow?

Clancy Park – future home of Traverse City natural area park

Click to embiggen

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Traverse City volunteer Parks and Recreation Commission worked with the Clancy Park supporters and adopted the above plan, including strongly advocating for the natural play area. 


EDITOR’S NOTE: My Wheels are Turning is published with standard journalistic practice and ethics. The basics of which include: 1) All contributors, including commenters, seek to be accurate and inclusive in the coverage. 2) They treat all topics, viewpoints and individuals covered in a post with respect and dignity. 3) This is an editorial endeavor in that this online publication seeks to support and shift public perception of the value of public space, as well as pedestrian and bike culture. 4) All content is first & foremost the perspective & opinion of the author of that post and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editor, other contributors, or underwriters.

Thank you for supporting the project.

  1. Nancy Griesinger
    July 19, 2012 at 10:10 am

    Anything we adults can do to enrich the lives of our children gets a “thumbs up” from me. I often say, “I wish I had raised my boys here.” Traverse City is already a “magical place,” to my way of thinking, and fixing up safe and intriguing areas for young ones to explore and develop their imaginations, will always get my vote!

  2. July 19, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    I heartily endorse your proposal. Nature is always changing, amazing, growing and thriving without any help from us. Mowed grass and pavement, even fantastic play equipment, offers little to capture the imagination of a child in comparison.

  3. JeffBellham
    July 20, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Leave the park alone… Mr. Sporie would have loved it to remain the wonderful self appearing skating rink it has always been! How much money and time and studies did parks and rec spend on this? One is to many!

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