SAN FRANCISCO, CA – San Francisco children scrambled over boulders, crawled into a kid-sized tunnel in a hollow tree, and perched atop repurposed logs today following a ribbon cutting at the city’s Nature Exploration Area at Heron’s Head Park.
The 12,000-square-foot exploration area at 32 Jennings St, is a collaboration between the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and its partners: the Port of San Francisco; Kaiser Permanente, San Francisco Children and Nature, Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds, and KABOOM!.
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.
“The pandemic showed us the importance of nature and outdoor space for our city’s children,” said Mayor Breed. “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.”
Today’s opening expands the role of Heron’s Head Park as an environmental education hub for youth. Steps away from the Nature Exploration Area 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.
“With the opening of the Nature Exploration Area next to the existing EcoCenter, Heron’s Head has become the city’s center for learning about sustainability and nature,” said District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton. “Kids growing up in Bayview-Hunters Point today will become tomorrow’s leaders in building a sustainable future.”
The project is part of San Francisco Children and Nature, a collaborative of city departments, nonprofits and other groups working together to reduce disparities in nature access along socioeconomic and racial lines.
“Children in every neighborhood in San Francisco should have the same opportunity to experience nature every day and to grow and learn in the outdoors,” said San Francisco Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “Nature is vital to our physical and mental well-being. It makes us healthier, happier, and more resilient.”
“The Port is proud to have partnered with the Recreation and Parks Department to bring this new nature-based amenity for children and families to enjoy at Heron’s Head Park,” said Elaine Forbes, Executive Director of the Port of San Francisco. “Local kids inspired this new exploration area and it is a great addition to the park and our southern waterfront.”
“It was a true pleasure to design and build this park together with the community,” said Adam Bienenstock, President of Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds. “What emerged from the collaborative process is something special: a habitat for the birds, the butterflies, and the children. A place to gain perspective through its meditative spiral pathways and views across this birder’s paradise to the San Francisco Bay. I hope the community enjoys it as much as we did in creating it with them. And I hope this sets a new standard for the City of San Francisco in connecting communities to nature and each other.”
“Access to both quality playspaces and exposure to nature is too often dictated by race, zip code, or socioeconomic status,” said Lysa Ratliff, Chief Executive Officer, KABOOM!. “We are thrilled to come together with our partners today to celebrate the community-led effort to bring a Nature Exploration Area to Heron’s Head Park, coming one step closer to ending playspace inequity and ensuring that every single child in San Francisco has an amazing place to learn and play.”
Kaiser Permanente provided a $500,000 grant to help with the construction of the nature play area and multiple other playground projects in San Francisco. A portion of the funding also helped the city purchase sanitation stations and signage to help reopen playgrounds during the pandemic.
“An important part of Kaiser Permanente’s mission is supporting the health and well-being of the communities we serve,” said Ron Groepper, senior vice president and area manager, Kaiser Permanente Greater San Francisco Area. “Outdoor play is essential for total health and we are proud this grant is creating more space for children and families to stay active and enjoy the outdoors together.”
Access to play and exposure to nature are vital for children’s emotional, social, and physical health, research shows. However, access to these amenities is too often correlated with race, zip code, or socioeconomic status. Learn more at sfchildrennature.org/heronshead
About 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.
About 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.
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.
About SF Rec & Park
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.
About the 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.
About SF Children & Nature
San Francisco Children & Nature is a citywide collaborative that works to address the disparities in nature access along socioeconomic and racial lines to ensure all children have the opportunity to play, learn and grow in the outdoors.
About 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.