Along the Wisconsin River, next to the Bridge Street bridge in Wausau, Wisconsin, lies Riverlife Park—a destination park and playground that includes a play structure that is one of the largest in the US.
The playground was designed as part of the Wausau Riverfront Development. Stantec’s team of urban planners, landscape architects, engineers, and scientists worked with the City of Wausau to transform a nearly half-mile brownfield redevelopment along the Wisconsin River shoreline into a regional recreation and entertainment waterfront destination. The riverfront development is the culmination of more than 30 years of dedication to land assembly and funding from the Wausau Mayors and Council, supported by their Steering Committee and many generous donors.
The first phase of the project included an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) publicly accessible pedestrian bridge, boat docks, kayak launches, a wharf, multi-use trail system, landscaping amenities, and riverbank restoration.
Riverlife Park was part of the final phase of the development project, which includes the state-of-the-art playground equipment, a concessions building, and related site work.
Less than five other playgrounds like this exist in the US.
The children’s playground section includes several modern, fun takes on playground classics. A sky walk with three sky cabins takes center stage giving kids a birds-eye view of the park and the riverfront. Kids can enter the sky walk from climbing nets below each of the sky cabins and get back down using the 10-foot-tall tube slide. Additional climbing nets and boulders are also found throughout the park along with swings and spinners.
To ensure safety, the entire park incorporates colorful poured-in-place rubber surface that provides cushioning and consistent fall protection throughout. The rubber surface also makes the park universally accessible for all visitors, meeting the standards of the ADA.
The park includes a feature that is particularly unique – a timed challenge course designed for kids 13 and older. Kids can race against a clock through ninja-inspired obstacles to try to beat their friends’ times or set their own personal best. There are also interactive water fountain of “jumping jets” near the concessions building to give kids a fun way to cool off.
Younger kids, ages 2-5, can enjoy the some of the smaller play equipment. Parents can watch their children play by sitting on strategically placed benches and tables and chairs, complete with shade umbrellas to provide relief during the summer.
Options for the whole family
Under the shade of the Bridge Street bridge, adults can get a workout in at the outdoor fitness area, which includes several cardio and static weight machines.
After a long day of playing, families and friends can grab refreshments at the on-site concession building.
In addition to the activities and playground equipment, Riverlife Park also includes several unique planting areas with attractive landscaping and plant material varieties, a heavy use of natural stone boulders and placed stone along the river banks that match stone veneers used on seat walls, buildings, benches, and picnic tables throughout, allowing visitors a chance to relax and take in the picturesque view of the revitalized riverfront. All amenities provide great river views and enhance the experience for bikers, walkers, and everyday travelers through the park and trail.
The park is transformed at night by the lighting design, which includes special nautical themed pedestrian lights and bollards, as well as special effect lighting in pedestrian gathering spaces that include LED strip lighting and color changing LED fixtures on the bridge.
Impact on the community
Riverlife Park and the Wausau Riverfront Development were designed to bring together people of all ages and abilities to a regional waterfront destination. Since the playground opened in 2019, the City of Wausau has already seen a positive increase in economic impact from guests traveling to the city to experience Riverlife Park.
The entire development has won several awards, including a Public Works Project of the Year – Small Cities/Rural Communities Award, a National Brownfield Renewal Economic Impact Award, a Professional Design Merit Award from the Wisconsin Chapter of American Society of Landscape Architects, and Public Works Project of the Year Award from the Wisconsin Chapter of the APWA.
Additional improvements are planned along the trail network, including a new trailhead and river overlook south of Riverlife Park in downtown Wausau.
Location: Wausau, Wisconsin, United States
Design Firm: Stantec
Photo credit: Silverman Photography
Text credit: Todd Wichman and Eric Lembke