Kid-designed and constructed out of repurposed natural materials like logs, stumps, and boulders, our Nature Exploration Area (NEA) is open and ready for play.
We did it!
UNICEF just announced that our Nature Exploration Area won the Cities Inspire Award for being an inspiring solution that improves the daily lives of children. Learn more about the award and other great projects here.
The pandemic showed us the importance of nature and outdoor space for our city’s children. I am thrilled that our kids now have a new, safe, and spacious area to cultivate their imaginations, connect with friends, and learn about the natural world.” — Mayor London Breed
Nature Exploration Area @ Heron’s Head Park
Inspired by the Children & Nature movement to get kids to unplug and reconnect with the outdoors, the San Francisco Recreation & Park Department and the Port of San Francisco in collaboration with SF Children & Nature installed a Nature Exploration Area (NEA) at Heron’s Head Park. We teamed up with play experts at KABOOM! and leaders in nature play design at Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds with generous funding from Kaiser Permanente to create a unique space where kids and families can gather, create, and play.
The Nature Exploration Area expands the role of Heron’s Head Park as an environmental education hub for youth. Steps away from the NEA is the EcoCenter, a space for science and ecology-related workshops and classes. Owned and managed by the Port and Operated by Rec and Park, the EcoCenter is an off-the-grid facility with its own solar energy system, living roof, wastewater treatment and rainwater harvesting and reuse systems.
See photos and learn more about our process:
Designed by Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds with input from local children who drew their ideal play areas, the new space allows kids to negotiate risk through exploring nature, climbing, and balancing. Locally sourced natural elements including boulders and tree stumps provide the materials for creativity, dramatic play, and imagination. Winding, accessible pathways mix with playful shortcuts, leading to a gathering space or outdoor classroom with seating made from repurposed logs. Surrounded by native vegetation, the exploration area offers high lookout spots for spying birds and other wildlife.
Grab some markers and use your imagination to design a great place to play.
Virtual Design Space
On a computer or tablet, use this tool to design your dream nature play space. (Google account needed for now)
Because nature is good for us! Research shows that children who experience meaningful connections to nature in their daily lives are healthier, happier, and more resilient. Yet today’s kids spend half the time playing outside than their parents did.
Let’s change that!
A National Movement: Nature Play
Cities are using nature play spaces to foster outdoor learning, improve kids’ health, and improve parks. This video from the Cities Connecting Children to Nature Initiative provides an overview of nature play spaces and how cities the
About our Partners
Funder: Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve almost 12.5 million members in 8 states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal Permanente Medical Group physicians, specialists, and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery, and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education, and the support of community health.
Design & Construction: Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds
Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds was established in 2005. Since its inception, our company has grown at a 30% pace year-over-year, touting a current roster of over 50 employees and over one thousand projects. Our focus has been to establish ourselves as the nature play experts for the Municipalities, Nature Centers, Museums, Hospitals, Schools and Child Care Centers we work with. Our expertise ranges from optimal child development and sustainable sourcing practices, to creating play spaces that comply with the ASTM playground standard and that exceed the ADA for accessibility.
Since 2005, the Bienenstock team has grown to include specialists in: Landscape Architecture, Public Policy, Public/Private Partnership Development, Early Childhood Education, Human Kinetics, Architecture, Software Engineering, Horticulture and Arboriculture. Bienenstock has accumulated numerous awards for green space related consultation and design. The team’s strengths are in their ability to consult in various professional fields that require a consultant who is mindful of the effects that their recommendations have on the natural world. By focusing on nature they have provided clients with green sustainable solutions.
Non Profit-Partner: KABOOM!
KABOOM! is the national non-profit that works to achieve playspace equity. Kids who don’t have access to play miss out on childhood and are denied critical opportunities to build physical, social and emotional health. And all too often, it more deeply affects communities of color. So we amplify the power of communities to build inspiring playspaces that spark unlimited opportunities for every kid, everywhere. KABOOM! has teamed up with partners to build or improve 17,000+ playspaces, engage more than 1.5 million community members and bring joy to more than 11 million kids. To learn about our goal to end playspace inequity for good, visit kaboom.org and join the conversation at twitter.com/kaboom, facebook.com/kaboom, and instagram.com/kaboom.
San Francisco Recreation & Park Department
The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department currently manages more than 220 parks, playgrounds and open spaces throughout San Francisco, including two outside city limits—Sharp Park in Pacifica and Camp Mather in the High Sierras. The system includes full-complex recreation centers, swimming pools, golf courses, sports fields, and numerous small-to-medium-sized clubhouses that offer a variety of sports- and arts-related recreation programs for people of all ages. Included in the Department’s responsibilities are Golden Gate Park, Coit Tower, the Marina Yacht Harbor, the San Francisco Zoo, and Lake Merced. In 2017, San Francisco became the first city in the nation where all residents have access to a park within a 10-minute walk, a direct result of the Department’s commitment to increasing and improving parkland in the city.
Port of San Francisco
The Port of San Francisco manages the waterfront as the gateway to a world-class city, and advances environmentally and financially sustainable maritime, recreational and economic opportunities to serve the City, Bay Area, and California.
The Eco Center
The EcoCenter at Heron’s Head Park is a unique treasure in the Bayview Hunters Point Community. It is a space for environmental education, workshops, assembly, and a place where youth, families, and community can gather and engage with nature.
Design & Construction
Construction In-Kind Materials & Support
Most of the NEA’s logs were sourced from Golden Gate Park by the Rec & Park Green Recycling Operations Crew including the beautiful Monterrey Cypress climber and the wacky posts.
The stumps and accessible features come were donated by the Presidio Trust.
The giant boulder was donated by CEMEX from their quarry near Mt. Diablo. Cemex also donated concrete for the footers from their Pier 92 plant and some native plants from Literacy for Environmental Justice who grow hyper-local plants with local teens and the community.
Hansen Aggregates donated the drainage gravel from Pier 94 and the delivery was donated by Mike and Tricia Gregory of HVYW8 Trucking, a local trucking company dedicated to giving back to the Bayview Neighborhood.
Community and Outreach Partners
Thank you volunteers for supporting our community workdays. On the last 4 days of construction, 150 volunteers planted 240 native plants, installed and compacted 60 cubic yards of engineered wood fiber, placed 90 cubic yards of landscaping mulch, erected a low temporary fence to protect our smaller plants, sanded 2 table stumps, and 12 seating stumps and stained our wacky posts and additional log features.
None of this could have been achieved without strong partnerships and community support. We are humbled by the many dedicated community volunteers and organizations that came out including:
- California Native Plant Society – Yerba Buena Chapter
- Chinatown Rotary Club
- Delta Zeta
- Edgewood Center for Children and Families
- ETIC Engineering
- Feline Finesse Dance Company
- Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy
- HandsOn Bay Area
- Levi Strauss & Co.
- Low Income Investment Fund
- Planned Parenthood Golden Gate
- Planned Parenthood Golden Gate
- Rebuilding Together SF
- San Francisco Department of the Environment
- San Francisco Rec & Park, Capital, Recreation and Volunteer Divisions
- Service Now
- SF Evening
- Shipyard Arts Collective
- Tandem, Partners in Early Learning
- The Presidio Trust
- University of San Francisco
- Wilderness Arts and Literacy Collaborative, Downtown High School
- and Bayview residents
110 young people shared their ideas for what this space would look like at five design jams held here at Heron’s Head Park, Joe Lee Rec Center, Garfield Center, Bayview YMCA and Hunter’s View Y program.
54 project volunteers were young people.