In Camrose, they play well together

When given the opportunity to replace an old playground, many municipalities might opt for the classics—brightly-coloured slides and and old-school monkey bars.

But when the City of Camrose set out to build a new playground in the Stoney Creek area, they had a different vision. They dreamed of a space that would not detract from the picturesque valley, but rather incorporate nature-inspired play equipment into the landscape.

However, bringing this vision to life required more funds than the city was able to set aside. That’s when the Camrose Wellness Coalition stepped in. They approached the city with a plan to collaborate on the project.

In partnership with the Battle River Watershed Alliance, the coalition applied for and received a grant from the provincial government, providing an additional $125,000 to match funds the city had already budgeted.

Lucy Ernst, the coalition chair and an Alberta Health Services health promotion facilitator, says the collaborative approach allowed the groups to exceed their own expectations for the project.

“Everyone brought a different skill set and knowledge base which really helped with the development of something of this magnitude,” explains Lucy.

When finished, the new Stoney Creek playground included not only nature-inspired play equipment, but a sensory pathway and a nearby outdoor classroom made up of large boulders.

At the playground’s grand opening, the city’s mayor participated in the festivities, the Battle River Watershed Alliance offered nature-themed crafts in the outdoor classroom, and a physical therapist from the wellness coalition led games through the sensory pathway.

“Everywhere you looked, the space was being utilized,” says Lucy. “I felt a real sense of gratitude to have worked with such wonderful people to create such an incredible outcome.”

This joint approach earned the Camrose Wellness Coalition a Building Community Capacity award from Communities ChooseWell in 2019. The award recognizes groups that work together to enable citizens to engage in active living.

And the coalition’s vision for enhancing health through partnership didn’t end with the nature playground. They also reached out to the Camrose Public Library to provide a unique opportunity for local children to learn more about physical literacy.

Staff from the Camrose Public Library were travelling to different city parks on a “book bike”—a bike with a large storage cube stocked with books. The Camrose Wellness Coalition asked if they could add physical activity equipment like soccer balls, bocce and skipping ropes to the bike. The library agreed, and the coalition typed up laminated activity cards to go along with the equipment, explaining how to use the items and how to adapt the activities for anyone with disabilities.

“Library staff told us that once they had the physical literacy items, kids were even more engaged,” says Lucy. “They were already doing such great work at the library and this was a way to enhance that.”

Overall, Lucy is an advocate for finding any way to enhance health by working together. This could include attending Communities ChooseWell’s education and networking events, which Lucy says allows the coalition members to further their learning.

“In the end it’s about trying to create a healthier community, and if you can do that collaboratively it’s going to lighten your load.”