The city of Stuttgart has renovated its five forest playgrounds for half a million euros. They invite you to play and run around. However, the topics of local recreation and nature conservation still sometimes collide in the forest.
As absurd as it may sound, in recent years much wood has been carried into the forest in Stuttgart. Ultimately, the task was to renovate the five forest playgrounds owned by the city of Stuttgart. “Over the last few decades, city employees have built and designed the playgrounds themselves,” says Benjamin Schuldt, forest educator for the city of Stuttgart. But then many employees retired, and not all forestry positions could have been filled. For this reason, there was not enough capacity for a long time, with the result that TÜV found significant defects in 2013: More than half of the playground equipment had to be removed.
The city decided to rehabilitate all five forest playgrounds. “She spent a lot of money on this, a total of half a million euros,” says Schuldt, who started alone as a forest educator for the city of Stuttgart in October 2016 and can now rely on three employees. A position still needs to be filled. “We have not only replaced the play equipment, we have increased it and invested heavily everywhere.” All forest playgrounds are checked once a week, plus there are quarterly and annual main checks.
The forest as a raw material supplier “is okay”
As with all other playgrounds in Stuttgart – there are more than 500 – several aspects played a role in the conceptual redesign: “The topics of inclusion, diversity and climate change are very important,” says Schuldt. Playgrounds must be accessible to all, offer something for all children, and care must be taken when applying shade and water. “It was especially important for us that there were also play equipment for the older children,” says Schuldt. Barbecue areas have been created for the young people, which can of course also be used by families. In general, care was taken to work with wood and natural materials – hence the large amount of wood that was brought into the forest.
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According to Schuldt, the forest as a raw material supplier does not do its importance justice. Being a local recreational area is the even more important function that the forest in Stuttgart assumes: With a size of around 6,500 football pitches, the forest is Stuttgart’s largest local recreational area. Half of it belongs to the city of Stuttgart, the other half to the state of Baden-Württemberg. However, this feature sometimes conflicts with the idea of nature conservation. And that already applies to the forest as a raw material supplier: “It’s ok if the resource tree is used because it grows out again,” says Schuldt. Especially since sometimes there was no other way than to cut down trees: in the Bürgerwald, the beech trees are currently dying on a large scale. “This tree is too dry, it must be felled urgently to make the forest climate stable, for example with Douglas fir or oak,” says Schuldt. But people often have no understanding that trees sometimes have to be felled, civic initiatives would protest and the municipal council no longer dares to say goodbye to necessary tree felling.
Nature conservation and local recreation sometimes “bite” each other
Another problem is that there are two and a half thousand tree veterans in the Stuttgart city forest who can overthrow at any time. “But the sacred cows of nature conservation are living in dead branches right now,” says Schuldt. These include primarily insects, but also birds, amphibians and mammals.
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That nature conservation and local recreation “sometimes bite each other” is perhaps most evident in the waste mountains that often congregate on forest playgrounds. “It’s a problem. We have already set up rubbish bins, but it only resulted in people dumping their household waste there,” says Schuldt. Therefore, they decided against it, especially as the risk of forest fires increases due to rubbish bins. A social company has been tasked with collecting the waste there from April to November.
Facilitate access to nature
But the question “How do you get out into the woods” is also a “hot topic” that the city of Stuttgart is investigating. “It’s about making it easier to access nature. It is, of course, cross-border when everyone drives to the forest playgrounds by car. Therefore, there are considerations, for example, that school classes and day care institutions can freely use public transport, “says Schuldt. So it says more often: “Off to the forest”.