Happy place


POSTED: Thursday, June 04, 2009

More than 70 volunteers gathered at the YMCA's Camp Erdman yesterday to begin construction on the first playground in Hawaii incorporating natural elements to teach campers about environmental sustainability.

The 29,000-square-foot play area is a Nature Built playground funded by national nonprofit organization KaBOOM!, which has built more than 1,600 new playgrounds, skate parks and sports fields across the nation since 1995.

“;We are so excited to be selected as the location for the first Nature Built playground of this kind, and especially proud of the fact that kids from our community were able to help design it,”; said Josh Heimowitz, executive director of Camp Erdman. “;It's perfect timing, since summer camp will be starting soon.”;

Heimowitz said that planning began in January when 30 children from the camp were asked to design a playground using natural items. Their drawings, along with designs from adults, were sent to KaBOOM! headquarters, where landscape designer Noah Levy brought it together on a blueprint.

“;I'm looking forward to my friends coming in to make a wood chest for the table in the tree house,”; said Rose Garcia, 6, from Kapolei Elementary.

Garcia was one of the many children who designed a tree house, which volunteers started building yesterday.

Garcia and several other children also created thank-you notes for volunteers out of recycled paper. Keeping the environment in mind, they embedded a'ali'i seeds into the paper so volunteers can plant the card later.

Despite the heat and humidity, volunteers enjoyed music, food and free prizes throughout the day. Army volunteers worked on the canoe hale entrance to the playground, while Y's Men's Club charter member Raymond Seto stayed busy digging a footpath to the rock amphitheater and hiking trail.

“;I think the kids should be very happy,”; said Seto, 73, of Mililani. “;When they come here, they'll see something very different: an entirely different type of playground more dedicated towards nature.”;

Other features of the playground include a compass-shaped maze that will share legends of Kaena, an edible forest consisting of native Hawaiian plants, and a jumping garden made from invasive mangrove stumps, which YMCA staff chopped down with state officials earlier this year.

About 300 volunteers are expected to contribute throughout the entire project, which will be completed Saturday. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place at 3 p.m. with Darrell Hammond, KaBOOM! chief executive officer and co-founder.

Besides KaBOOM!, many local companies volunteered or donated materials to the project, including Aloha United Way, Architects Hawaii Ltd., Complete Tent Rental, GEICO, HFM Food Service, Kokua Hawaii Foundation, Lost at Sea, the Omidyar Network, Rotary Club of Honolulu, Sky Dive Hawaii, TR3EES, Turtle Bay Resort, Waialua Soda Works, Waimea Falls Grill and Y. Hata & Co.

Omidyar Network co-founder Pam Omidyar, who grew up in Hawaii Kai, was also an active volunteer at the playground site.

“;As an Oahu resident and mom, I'm happy and humbled to be a part of this project,”; she said. “;Every child deserves a safe and fun place to play, just as I had growing up here.”;