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A “mini Geopark” is being planned for the Oamaru Public Gardens.

The play area between the gardens’ Chelmer St car park and North Otago Tennis’ grass courts will be revamped with emphasis on “natural play”, Waitaki District Council parks officer Jane Matchett said.

The new design will incorporate natural elements such as sand, water, wood and living plants, and the council had indicated it would contribute about $100,000 to the project, about half of the total cost, Mrs Matchett said.

The other $100,000 would be raised by the community through donated materials, sponsorship and voluntary labour, she said.

“We believe with contributions from the community we will be able to meet that shortfall,” Mrs Matchett said.

“While it’s a tricky time [financially] for many people, it might be suitable for others to provide labour.”

The playground project, designed by local craftsman Dugal Armour, would take place in stages, she said.

The first phase, which would start this year, was the replacement of the two paddling pools with a water play feature. The design was based on a stylised version of the Waitaki lakes and braided river systems, she said.

With accessible paths and interactive water play, children would be able to use their imaginations and divert the course of the water, create dams and their own pools, and it was essential the park had easy access to people of all abilities, she said.

The idea had been in the pipeline for a long time, community volunteer Gloria Hurst said.

Mrs Hurst said she and a collective of like-minded people had been tossing the idea around for more than 10 years.

“It has been the dream of a lot of people for a long time and if you dream long enough, magic happens – just ask kids,” she said.

The playground would be somewhat of a “mini Geopark”, Mrs Hurst said.

“The kids could be creating dams, searching for fossils and learning about the wider Waitaki.

“And it’s intergenerational, it’s not just for kids.”

The ultimate dream, and what the new playground was symbolic of, was for Waitaki to host an Outward Bound-type course, with journeys of self-discovery from Oamaru to Mt Cook, Mrs Hurst said.

“This is the perfect start.

“How it evolves is up to the kids’ imagination.”

Anyone interested in helping with the project should contact the Waitaki District Council on (03) 433-0300.