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arrow Explore a Pathways for Play National Demonstration Site October 31 in Atlanta

arrow Request the Pathways for Play Guidebook from PlayCore and the Natural Learning Initiative

arrow Learn more on the GameTime Play Trails page

arrow Download the Pathways for Play Flyer (pdf 3.3 mb)

photo of kids running on book cover


arrow Two Pathways for Play webinars hosted by American Trails, together with PlayCore and the Natural Learning Initiative, focus on Pathways for Play. We highlight ways to integrate play— critical for children's health— into trail networks to provide opportunities for playing along the way, and encouraging use by children and families! We'll be making these webinars available online later in 2011.



Playful pathways: Changing the way families play

“There is something very exciting to be present at the birth of a new idea. Pathways for Play gives us new tools to ensure that children grow healthier in body, and healthier in spirit. American Trails is honored to be a part of this project and to help introduce it to the trails world. As the central theme of our organization is Trails for All Americans, we hope this new effort will open doors to the outdoors for children, as well as their parents, grandparents, and friends.”
— Pam Gluck, Executive Director, American Trails

HOW CAN WE get families out on the trail? Create activities and adventures that draw them outdoors and entice them to keep moving along the path. Recreation and trail professionals interested in building a pathway to facilitate playful family behavior will find the best practice guidebook Pathways for Play extremely useful. Written by Robin Moore, Dipl Arch, MCP, ASLA, and his team at the Natural Learning Initiative, College of Design, NC State University, in partnership with PlayCore, the guidebook serves as an exciting tool to build support for playful trails, as well as ideas on layout, creating adventures, obtaining funding, and sustaining the trail. The guidebook addresses how to integrate play into walkable, bikeable networks, offers case studies, and discusses best practice principles for design, to ensure a playful pathway meets the expectations of both trail owners and users.

arrow Request the Pathways for Play Guidebook

photo of kids running on book cover

The Pathways for Play guidebook is designed to help bring more
opportunities for play into community trail systems


To create the guidebook, supporting research was gath- ered on spontaneous play, family interaction in the out- doors, traffic issues, independent mobility, contact with nature, and adult/child interaction. This data was used to develop a set of benefits for playful pathways, supported and implied by the research, namely health promotion, inclusion, engagement with nature, environmental literacy, connectivity, and community social capital. Since this combination of benefits may not necessarily be achieved by other means, Pathways for Play creates a new paradigm in outdoor recreation for the family.

The program guide describes ways to combine historical elements, built play equipment, and natural materials in the pockets of activity, then space these pockets along a trail, designed with curving paths to disguise the next activity, and create an element of mystery and discovery.

“What waits around the next corner” becomes the theme of the adventure, and families spend quality time walking along the path, appreciating the natural environment, the sounds, smells, and sights of the pathway network, all while anticipating what adventures await them next, and when they will be encountered. With curving path alignments, both children and adults have a choice in the way they experience the path, and the order in which they encounter the events.

Playful pathways are a new focus for many planners and trail designers as they create corridors for community connectivity. All children need access to the wonder of the outdoors, and this new approach to playful pathway design offers compelling ways to engage children and families alike. Playful exhibits stationed along the trail increase the usage of pathways and trails by infusing them with play and adventure, engaging children by using familiar behaviors, centered around play, all while teaching facts about the environment in a friendly, non formal way.

photo of trail and play equipment


At the new playful path installed at the Chattanooga Riverwalk in Chattanooga, TN, families were recently observed playing and proving the power of bringing play to nature. Play pockets spaced along the trail invite this type of behavior and interaction, as families set off in search of the next play pocket: they talk about the adventure they just had, discuss their own life experiences, and enjoy a nature walk along the way, supporting the growth of mind, body, spirit, and appreciating the rich diversity of the outdoors. Fun and playful activities that are set in nature are also thought to help instill environmental stewardship in children, ensuring that they will appreciate nature, and therefore work to preserve it as adults.

While most parents will find a bench or place to rest while children play, the linear nature of these playful pathways ensures the entire family gets active and participates. They become a part of the adventure: during the walk, with the activities, and while interacting with the signs. Jeannine Alday, Chief of Staff of Hamilton County, TN, recently stated at the opening of the Chattanooga Play Trail, “This project represents another pearl in the necklace that is the Chattanooga Riverwalk, and is an exciting addition Chattanooga is proud to have.” At another playful path installation in Springfield, MO, Park Director Jodie Adams said, “we are so thrilled to have this cutting-edge program here in Springfield.”

One only has to observe the families at either location to understand the impact these trails are having. “Wow, did you know a dragonfly can fly 30 miles per hour,” or “I don’t think I should squish spiders, they are actually pretty cool,” are just some of the comments children make as they learn about the environmental contributions of creatures they see every day.

Join the Movement!

PlayCore continues to seek National Demonstration Sites to lead the way in designing innovative play environments that integrate play along pathway networks. For more information about Pathways for Play, becoming a National Demonstration Site, or receiving a copy of the Pathways for Play best practice guidebook, contact PlayCore at or visit

arrow For more resources and programs on Kids and Trails, visit

arrow Learn more on the GameTime Play Trails page

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