Ava Casavant of Gardner, Massachusetts, explores the Forest Playground at the Curtis Farm Preserve in Harpswell. Taylor Abbott / The Forecaster

HARPSWELL — An interactive playground has opened at the Curtis Farm Preserve that encourages children and families to bring their imagination and creativity to the scene.

The project was led by Julia McLeod, outreach director for the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, which owns the land where the playground is located.

McLeod said her inspiration came from watching her children play and observe and through her many summers working at a day camp with children. Additionally, she is working on setting up similar stations at local schools.

“I have been working with kids outdoors for a long time,” McLeod said. “I feel really passionate about getting kids outdoors and about the benefits of being out in nature. It’s been really important to me in my life and my kids’.”

The beginning of the story walk, which spans out approximately a quarter of a mile across 19 posts, encourages children to explore the trails and keep them engaged. Taylor Abbott

The Forest Playground is separated into four sections: creativity; exploration and discovery; arts and music; and a story walk. Each section of the playground allows children to access different materials and use them to be creative, whether it’s using chimes to make music or being able to identify different species of birds with the help of binoculars and a visual guide.

The story walk spans about a quarter of a mile down the trail, with 19 posted pages. The playground is open seven days a week from dusk to dawn at 1554 Harpswell Neck Road.


Harpswell Land Trust focuses on preserving land to keep it in its natural state and protect clean water and wildlife habitat. The plan, according to McLeod, is to move the location of the playground each summer to allow for different areas of the community to have access.

“This playground is awesome,” said Lori Sweet of Gardner, Massachusetts, who was visiting the park with her teenage children. “I imagine my kids would have enjoyed this more when they were younger. A friend of ours mentioned this place because we wanted something that was dog-friendly and allows us to enjoy the summer weather.”

Each station is equipped with materials and objects that encourage visitors to put their minds to work. Each week, McLeod visits the site with new additions for each station and takes note of ways to improve and make the experience more memorable. While each station is marked with a name and signage, there are no directions on how to use the materials.

Ava Casavant, of Gardner, Mass., exploring the arts and creativity station at the Harpswell Forest Playground. Taylor Abbott / The Forecaster

“We intentionally don’t have directions to allow kids to challenge themselves and experiment,” McLeod said. “A lot of the programming that I do with the Harpswell Community School is outdoors and science-based, so I am trying to get kids to love science and nature and see that they can learn about the place that they live in  and that not all learning comes straight from a book.”

The project is funded mainly through the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, which allowed McLeod to purchase materials for the playground. The playground came together with the help of 20 volunteers over a two-month period.

“This is many years in the building,” McLeod said. “Even though I put it together in just a month or two, this has been brewing in my mind for many years. It’s very exciting to see it come to life.”


Visitors are also encouraged to take photos and share them online with the hashtag #HarpswellForestPlayground. The goal is to have the playground open until the end of August, although depending on the weather and how much traffic it sees, McLeod is hopeful it can stay open through early  September.

A sign-in sheet is located at the entrance to the Forest Playground, where visitors are encouraged to share their experience. Taylor Abbott / The Forecaster

Upon entering the playground, a sign-in sheet allows visitors to leave comments and suggestions. So far, McLeod has received positive feedback from visitors from around the country, including Arizona, Mississippi and Michigan.

“There’s kids and families coming here and also people who just stumble on it,” McLeod said. “There’s a few more things that I want to do to improve the signage around the playground. I’ve brought a group of first graders from Harpswell Community School over here and they really enjoyed it.”


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