Fun fitness: Playground in Flat Rock sports unique ‘sky hammock’


Nicole North from Georgia poses like an armed James Bond in his films’ famed gun barrel chamber sequence — at the far end of the tunnel. This was in November, when it was an early feature of the playground during its construction. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Families are praising distinctive activity and fitness facets of the village-owned Park at Flat Rock’s wooden two-level “adventure playground,” and how its wooden elements visually blend into surroundings.


Gabrielle Urbanec, 9, bounces off cargo netting that is a prime feature of the new Bryan Playground in Flat Rock. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

“Words like ‘awesome,’ ‘terrific’ and ‘cool’ have been heard from the mouths of early users, as they describe their experiences at the playground,” Mayor Bob Staton stated.

The playground’s free dedication will start on-site at 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 16 and include popcorn and drinks. The playground opened on the first weekend of spring. A small kiddy playground nearby has been among park project plans.

The 66-acre park is off of Highland Lake Road, beside Highland Golf Villas. The village bought it for $1.15 million three years ago in June, 2013, and is patiently phasing in its development mostly as grants and donations come in.

The Bryan Playground includes a climbing wall at right, slides and boulders around the tunnel end at left. This side view of the two levels, taken Sunday, shows the cargo net on the upper level. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

A new $252,000 wooden picnic pavilion joins the nearby Welcome Center with its Perry N. Rudnick Community Room as sites available to rent. Both are near the lots in front.

Village Council unanimously voted at its last meeting for $154,000 in more park projects, for the new 2016-17 year that began July 1. They include a nature center (projected at $70,000), interior trails ($60,000) and landscaping. Savings came from getting sponsors to pay for two observation decks and two footbridges. This helped slice the total to less than half of the $385,000 in project requests.

Bryton Roberts swings like Tarzan on rings. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

This is the first public playground in the village, which is largely a retirement community but dedicates the park as a premier one for the general community. Council had authorized $260,000 for the playground.

Officials note most of that was handled by a donation by Kendall Gibson Bryan and Eleanor deSaussure Bryan, honoring their children: Josephine deSaussure Bryan, Kendall Gibson Bryan, Jr., Eleanor Charlton Bryan Mathews and Sarah Huger Holyer.

This spring, a $230,886 gift was hailed from the estate of Richard J. Eppler Jr. for the overall park. It is also to spur others to collectively give $1 million more to the Flat Rock Park and Recreation Foundation, Inc., according to the village spring newsletter. The Welcome Center’s community room and deck were paid with donations by Cam and Sally Boyd and the Rudnick Foundation.

This view from the park perimeter trail shows the pipe tunnel, flanked by climbing walls. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Such donations enable the village to develop the park, without raising taxes. Village Council once again kept the tax rate stable, at 11 cents per $100 of assessed real property. Most is for Blue Ridge fire service. The budget is $1.9 million.

The non-profit foundation, led by Maurean Adams, notes it has raised $800,000 in donations and grants in its first three years.

The main playground’s largest and most intriguing attraction by far is a giant, suspended cargo netting “sky hammock.” It is across the main/upper level.

People visiting from other states and from around here while at the playground told The Tribune they have not seen such an attraction in other parks. Thus it helps distinguish the Bryan Playground, as a Beanstalk Builders adventure playground design. The firm is based in Morganton, which has one of its playgrounds.

“They provide a full-body workout for kids and adults, while they are having fun,” Beanstalk Builders states online. “A healthy-living curriculum workbook and training is provided with each installation” on “healthy choices, diet and food groups, fitness, and connections to all traditional academic subjects” on-site. Its adult “forests” have high-wire walking and other aerial dares, while the playground is a muted and much safer adventure.

Children can walk along the double-stitched net, or bounce about it. Typically, they start cautiously to get footing — by gauging how much bounce there is on each step. Gabrielle Urbanec, who turns nine this month, is among youths to recently try it. She grinned at the unpredictable bouncing she could do in various directions. A parent can walk below the net, to encourage a child on it above.

Much looser-spaced netting (good for hands or feet to grip) is on sides, mostly along the playground’s south side that faces most of the park.

Upper body strength and agility both develop on stationary monkey bars or more challenging rings. The metal rings hang from chains, and thus move about. The object is to advance ring to ring, grabbing one then the other while swinging ahead — like Tarzan tree to tree.

Bryton Roberts, 7, figured how the key is to start swinging to the first ring to gain momentum. He is quite a force on the rings. His parents Stephen and Cindy Roberts often bring their children to the park. Stephen said he likes how Bryton can develop athletic skills and have fun doing so.

Small climbing walls with rock grips/foot shelves provide a strenuous challenge — especially for comparably elder children. Two such walls flank a large tubular tunnel. Children can gingerly scale across boulders atop and beside the other end of the tunnel.

People can hike over slopes also by the landscaped embankment and 1.5-mile park perimeter walking trail, rather than use the level main entrance that is paved heading to the entrance walkway. The playground’s lower/ground level is at the bottom of a hill, when looking from the lot’s northern end.

The climbing rings are beneath that entrance walkway, which leads to the extensive netting. Monkey bars are beneath the nearest catwalk around that netting, when coming from the parking lot. The netting is on the upper level.

Several plastic slides are among few non-natural materials of the playground. A blue slide leads from that second-level catwalk down to the ground level, a long play log and picnic area.

The catwalk at its far end is linked by a narrow bridge to a spot overlooking a climbing wall, then into a red twisting tubular slide. The bridge ramp has wiring on both sides to steady or catch any child slipping off of it. Below that ramp is a rope bridge low off the ground, to limit risk of injury from a fall.

Mini-pavilions offer shade and elevated viewing of the park, at the four corners of the catwalk around the netting.

The tunnel is fun to walk and talk in, to hear one’s echo, several noted including Phyllis FitzSimmons. She recently brought her grandchildren from Alabama — Clara Finlay, 3, and Declan Finlay, a year and a half in age. Phyllis likes the easy walking “accessibility” of the playground, by being close to the parking lot in the front of the park. That is good for elders who accompany children. Walkways are wheelchair-accessible.

Following noise complaints of Golf Villas residents about the playground, the village is spending $4,500 on a noise study and eyeing a sound barrier. Alcohol remains banned from the “low-impact” park.

For more on the park and village, call 597-8100 or check

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