Camp Matecumbe Playground by

2024 Public Projects / Florida / USA / Built in 2020 /

Camp Matecumbe Playground is a nature-focused play space located set within a 98-acre park in western Miami-Dade County, Florida. The larger park features a significant Pine Rockland preserve and is home to the historic site of Camp Matecumbe, where many child refugees fleeing Castro’s Cuban Revolution in the 1960s were sheltered upon their arrival in the United States. The playground project site was formerly a neglected area overrun with invasive plant species.

The client, Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation, and Open Spaces Department, requested the designers to develop a play space that would remove the invasive plants and incorporate species from the Pine Rockland preserve. Pine Rockland habitat once covered significant areas of Miami-Dade County but has been reduced to less than 2% of its former extent.

In addition to connecting with the adjacent preserve, a goal of the project was to create an immersive play experience where the play area would be intertwined with natural elements. The designers also wanted to create a space that would mimic the exciting explorations children might discover in nature and inspire curiosity. The designers also aimed to create a safe space that would allow children to run freely in a large open area and explore their environment.

The new playground is an expansive play space defined by pathways and open areas intermingling with native planting islands containing large, mature specimen Live Oak and Slash Pine trees. The oaks were carefully selected for their naturalistic characters, featuring gnarled and twisting branches and multiple trunks. The inclusion of mature oaks creates an established and natural feel while providing substantial shade for children at play, thus avoiding the need for artificial shade structures. The intermingling of planting areas and the playground allows children to run through and around the spaces between the trees, evoking a sense of playing within a forest environment.

Native grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs border the play space and fill the spaces underneath the oaks and pines to provide habitat for various wildlife species. Pollinator-friendly plants, host and nectar plants for butterflies, and fruit-producing shrubs attract a variety of wildlife to the planting areas around the play space.

A significant feature of the new play space is a 120’ x 90’ x 10’ constructed hill covered with native Pine Rockland planting, including Slash Pines, Saw Palmettos, Fakahatchee grasses, and Cocoplum shrubs. Children can climb the hill via large stepped native oolite boulder blocks (a native stone underlying much of South Florida), or by a gentler slope covered in mortared river rock. After reaching the top, children can slide down a super-sized 20’ long embankment slide leading back to the main playground level.

The center of the playground is marked by a dome-shaped jungle gym with various play elements, including rope climbing nets, swings, slides, and membranes for jumping or resting. The galvanized steel arches of the dome serve as a sculptural element without overwhelming the natural elements. Several of the large character oaks encircle the dome, providing ample shade for children at play.

Another notable component of the play space is an obstacle course comprised of constructed log elements and boulders. Some of the wood elements are made from cypress sinker logs recovered from Florida rivers. One sinker log was selected for its naturally formed hollow core, allowing children to pass through. A small hole on the side of the log provides a peek-out point. The obstacle course also includes a log walking beam and steppers made from cut sinker log segments, with ship-worm textures lending an interesting character to the play elements. Manufactured play pieces made from locust wood, including a rope swing element and wood stepping stilts, are also included.

The play space also features an area for smaller children with a wooden playhouse, bug-themed wood spring riders, and play panels. Additionally, the play space includes a swing-set with traditional belt swings, toddler swings, and a large nest swing accommodating several children at once. Musical instruments such as bells, metallophones, and chimes are placed throughout the playground.

The playground has been extremely popular among local families, drawing significant crowds, especially on weekends. Miami-Dade County has been very pleased with the design and function of the playground as well, using it as a model for developing other new or renovated playgrounds throughout the county. The county even developed a guidebook incorporating the design ideas from the playground for use in other future playgrounds.

Overall, the playground’s integration with nature, combined with its immersive and imaginative play features, has provided a beloved recreational space that exemplifies excellence in design, sustainability, and community impact.

Location: 13841 SW 120th St, Miami, Florida 33186

Design year: 2016-2017

Year Completed: 2020


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