Newton Kansan

Recent visitors to Centennial Park have commented on Facebook about a new addition to the park near the Blue Sky Sculpture on North Kansas Avenue.

It's a "pod park" - a native grass area with a .68 mile winding mowed trail that leads to circular pods, or "small playscapes." Within the pods are the remnants of cut trees and rocks for kids to climb on and explore.

"It's an unusual design," Erin McDaniel, Newton public information officer, said. "We have nothing else like it in our park system. It's another way to enjoy our parks."

Features include a hollow log, large rocks, 150-year-old Austrian pine logs from Greenwood Cemetery, sequoia root, iguana rock and a peekaboo climber.

McDaniel said the idea for the park came from park maintenance worker Jackie Krehbiel, who noted that our parents and grandparents did not always have playground equipment to play on so they had to use their imaginations, using the natural environment.

"This park kind of harkens back to that," McDaniel said.

The parks department started piecing the park together in 2012. When a large bur oak tree had to be removed from Athletic Park, park staff put logs from the tree in the park and used some of the wood to create benches, McDaniel said.

Amenities have been added here and there, and with several pods and play pieces added along the trail, the city is starting to promote the park.

McDaniel said it is good to find a "productive" use for the wood that has to be removed. A few of the pieces, such as the sequoia root and peekaboo climber, however, are man-made, yet resemble trees.

The idea behind the park is for kids to connect with nature and "maybe develop a spirit of environmental conciousness," McDaniel said.

Krehbiel said, “Natural playscapes promote creativity and encourage kids to develop a consciousness for preservation of the natural environment."