One of Collingwood’s oldest playgrounds is on its final days.
EnviroPark, the playground at Sunset Point Park, has encouraged water conservation and environmental protection through play since 1993.
Not only is it part of Collingwood's past, but it was also created to help a new generation learn about the past and the importance of water after the town and partners spent years rehabilitating the damaged and polluted local harbour.
The playground was built mostly from wood and concrete and was originally designed as a joint effort by those involved in environmental conservation and recreation in Collingwood at the time in hopes of revolutionizing playgrounds.
“By blending an adventure playground with an educational twist towards environmental protection, we gave birth to what we believe is a fabulous format for explaining the realities of our sink, toilets, and ground run-off, and how we all affect our environment,” Ben Bennett and Peter Dunbar wrote in a letter regarding the park’s development in the early 1990s.
Bennett was a member of the Collingwood Harbour Remedial Action Plan (RAP) Public Advisory Committee (PAC) and Dunbar was the director, Parks, Recreation and Culture for the Town of Collingwood. They wrote the letter to encourage other interagency projects of similar nature.
The playground itself was built to instill an awareness in younger generations of how everyday things directly impact the environment — but instead of a classroom setting, the children learn while they play.
“The concept is simple, but it might just help save our environment,” the letter continued.
To put it into context, the community was coming to terms with the state of the water in the Collingwood Harbour at the time.
In 1977 Collingwood harbour was listed as one of 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern in a binational agreement to restore and protect the Great Lakes. The federal and provincial governments assembled the RAP team in 1987 to rehabilitate the harbour and waters. In the 1980s there was excessive phosphorus in the water, and part of the rehabilitation solution was to use the town's wastewater treatment plant to remove phosphorus and achieve better quality effluent.
The excess of phosphorus in the harbour waters was causing algae blooms which in turn can create harmful toxins, destroy habitat, and negatively impact water quality.
You can read the report from the Government of Canada here.
Collingwood harbour was the first of the 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern to be delisted following restoration efforts. It was removed from the list in 1994, one year after the EnviroPark was built.
"One of the most novel projects designed to raise awareness of the importance of pollution prevention was the creation of the environmental theme park Enviropark," states the government follow-up report on the Collingwood harbour rehabilitation. "Situated in Sunset Point Park, this unique network of play structures was designed to instill in children an understanding of how everyday life has a direct impact on our environment."
The original playground included a series of climbing bars, tubes, and slides that represented the town’s sewage network, as well as miniature models of municipal wastewater treatment infrastructure. A model farm showed the impact of fertilizers and animals through run-off into watercourses, and an obstacle course represented the food chain. The structures sit on a 2.33 hectare property that is mostly covered in sand.
However, for that reason, as well as increasingly decaying structures, the grounds no longer meet accessibility standards. So, after 28 years of community use, EnviroPark now requires a replacement.
“It is becoming unsafe,” said Wendy Martin, manager of Parks. “It’s reached its lifespan and needs replacement.”
In 2019, the Town of Collingwood’s Parks, Recreation, and Culture Department started working on developing a new playground facility to replace EnviroPark at Sunset Point Park.
The town released an online survey asking residents for their feedback on what types of structures should replace the current establishment. It also asked respondents whether or not the new park should carry on the water and environmental protection theme, or should have a new theme.
“We had to remove a few features over the years so the whole story is not there anymore. It’s faded or disappeared altogether, so it has kind of lost its story,” said Martin.
The playground re-build will give the whole area a facelift and focus on creating an inclusive and accessible playspace for people of all ages, while supporting healthy development for kids in the community. Martin said the new playground will also feature a lighthouse in honour of town’s relationship with the Nottawasaga Lighthouse, as well as a structure that relates to the Silver Creek wetlands, among others.
“So we are trying to keep with the environmental theme but bring it up to industry standards and tie in aspects of this area,” she said.
The design also focuses on stimulating all five senses, not just physical activity.
“Right now, the park is very limiting to the physical ability of people to use the playground, so this will open it up so that all kids can play beside each other regardless of their ability,” said Martin.
The park will include several features for adults, such as a social space and USB charging stations.
Some of the construction has already begun, including the groundwork for the washroom facility and the Harvest Pavilion that was put in last summer. The rest is planned to follow a groundbreaking this fall, giving the community one last summer to enjoy EnviroPark.
The area will likely be renamed Sunset Point Park Playspace following its completion.
“It’s a much bigger area than people realize,” said Martin. “It’s a great location, and the re-build will provide so much more opportunity for the large space that is there.”