Brick City Adventure Park: Simplifying Play
by James R. Couillard, ASLA

As public sector employees and design professionals, we are constantly challenged to meet the needs of our citizens and visitors, all while being transparent and fiscally responsible with the taxpayer’s dollars. The joy of working on “budgetless” projects are fond memories of design competitions and the “what ifs” of private sector projects. The current economy has forced a lot of private sector jobs to be scaled back and in some cases this is how  parks departments may be operating on a day-to-day basis—recession or not.

For park renovation projects, our budgets have to address several critical points. Are we proposing enough for the community? Is this project too expensive? Will the Board approve this use of their constituents’ money?  Designers have to abide by these considerations while we listen to the community. Their needs can sometimes bust any budget, and choosing what gets built first and what comes in later phases can be another challenge.

Brick City Adventure Park (BCAP) in Ocala, Florida is a thirty-five acre park owned by Marion County Board of County Commissioners and operated by the Marion County Parks and Recreation Department. The County originally purchased the park in 1991. It reassumed operational responsibilities in 2008 and brought new enthusiasm and visions for the park’s true potential. From a financial standpoint, the timing to assume the operations of this park was difficult, but from a site design/planning perspective, the timing could not have been better. The ideas about free play and the need for children to re-engage with nature and the outdoors have a significant role in the newly created master plan for BCAP.

With the need to promote outdoor play on a very limited budget, doing more with less translated into: How can we get people excited about this existing wooded park and not break the budget?  We took the simple approach of solving safety issues, opening views into wooded areas by clearing underbrush, and updating play equipment, and are excited about dusting off this jewel of a park.

At BCAP, a two acre portion of the park is becoming an energized play area for children. Even before the new play area was designed, we found that the wooded area was being used for general play. Previously, the area was heavily overgrown and presented visual barriers, which deterred children from entering the woods.

Recently removed play unit. Image courtesy Marion County Board of County Commissioners, Parks & Recreation Department.

Now, with minimal maintenance and removal of unsafe items, children are encouraged to explore and discover the flora and fauna of this protected open space.

Play area with play unit removed. Image courtesy Marion County Board of County Commissioners, Parks & Recreation Department.

New play units that focus on the adventure theme with climbing apparatuses and agility stations are in the plans, and future elements include high ropes courses, wall climbing, and other activities that fit the existing site.

However, it is the wooded envelope that is capturing the imaginations of the children in a pleasantly unexpected way.

Cleared understory of wooded area. Image courtesy Marion County Board of County Commissioners, Parks & Recreation Department.

Brick City Adventure Park is a unique park for both residents and visitors in this region. With the absence of city noise it is hard to believe that you are visiting a park right in the middle of a city.

Preserving as much of this green space as possible for future generations is one goal of protecting places like BCAP. By implementing recreation improvements that have a low impact on the surrounding setting, simple play spaces are being created and open space is being protected for current and future outdoor enthusiasts.

James R. Couillard, ASLA is a Parks Designer for the Marion County Parks & Recreation Department in Marion County, Florida, and can be reached at

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