In the early 1900s, Dunedin resident and naturalist Dr. Willis Blatchley would sit on a viewing platform he built in a live oak tree on his waterfront property and record his observations of nature. His interest in science and his love of nature came through in his notes, which were later turned into books.
So when the city decided recently to build a playground on the land Blatchley once watched over, it was easy to pick the theme: nature. The result is one of the most unusual-looking playgrounds in the region.
The children scampering onto the playground when it opened Thursday found a slide extending from what looks like a tree house. Swings hanging from pretend tree trunks. A big model of an ant hill to climb through and a big egg to rock in. Giant butterflies and caterpillars to ride on. Even a mushroom table.
And signs bearing educational messages about nature.
"We're just ecstatic," said Lanie Sheets, the city's parks and recreation superintendent. "It's the most unique playground we've ever built. It's not a traditional playground … It's got play and imagination in mind."
Taxpayers weren't heavily burdened with the cost of building the $210,000 playground, thanks to a $200,000 donation from the Dunedin Youth Guild. The guild, which promotes and helps to fund programs for children, used a donation it had received from the Nan and Tom Moffatt Charitable Trust. Nan Moffatt was a member of the guild, Sheets said.
Because of the donation, the new playground has been named the Dunedin Youth Guild Playground at Weaver Park.
Weaver Park is north of downtown Dunedin on both sides of Bayshore Boulevard. The playground is in the section east of Bayshore, close to the Pinellas Trail.
The playground completes the planned development of that side of the park, which also has two new picnic shelters, new public restrooms, and parking areas on both the north and south ends, Sheets said. The city recommends reservations for the picnic shelters, but there are individual picnic tables in other areas of the park.
Sometime next year, Sheets said, the city will begin early design work on converting Blatchley's former home on the west side of the park to a coastal education center.
The city opened Weaver Park in 2011 after purchasing the land from Josiah Cephas Weaver, a local country singer and former rancher, to save it from development.
Diane Steinle can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4152.