New York City is filled with fun and unique playgrounds and parks. But as you can see from our slide show, there's nothing quite like Prospect Park's brand-new nature-based play space: the Donald & Barbara Zucker Natural Exploration Area. You won't find any swings, monkey bars, sprinklers or any other traditional play equipment here. All of the attractions at this one-of-a-kind romping spot are made from trees that were downed during storms and other recycled natural materials collected in the park.
From a distance, the Natural Exploration Area just looks like a bunch of random, twisted trees. What's so impressive about that? But once you arrive, you realize that there are plenty of things for children to climb, explore and manipulate. For city kids, this fenceless, wooded environment feels like playing in a forest and encourages all kinds of imaginative play. Apparently they like that—the place was hopping when my family and I visited.
The Donald & Barbara Zucker Natural Exploration Area is located near Prospect Park's so-called "Children’s Corner," and it was a huge hit with my preschool-age daughter. She had a blast walking across the huge fallen trees, jumping between wooden circles and lounging on the trunk chairs. There's plenty of space for kids to run free and master their climbing skills, plus a water pump, a sand area with wooden structures, various trunks and stumps to conquer, wooden paths and seating areas, and geometric shapes carved out of wood.
The play area isn't just fun, it's also educational. Families can learn about the natural materials used by reading the posted signage. One huge tree stump had a card that encouraged kids to count the rings to determine its age. Others explained how the trees fell (many due to Hurricane Sandy) or why they had to be cut down.
Toddlers will need some assistance navigating the attractions, but preschoolers and older kids should be able to do everything by themselves. Don't worry if they stumble: None of the structures are that high and the soft ground is covered with grass. After your nature adventure, check out the park's other big family attractions like the carousel, the zoo and Lefferts Historic House, which are all a short stroll away.
The Donald & Barbara Zucker Natural Exploration Area is located on Nellie's Lawn near the pond.
Find out about other unique NYC play spots in our Parks & Playgrounds Guide.