Why Can’t Kids Play in Nature In Oregon Parks?

We know how important it is for kids to play and explore the world around them, so why do we keep limiting their opportunities to do so? Parents in Oregon have noticed an absurd number of rules being posted at public parks restricting the ways that their children can play.

The following activities are forbidden in some parks around the state:

  • Climbing trees
  • Throwing objects
  • Splashing or swimming in bodies of water
  • Catching or disturbing bugs, birds, or animals
  • Picking flowers
  • Digging holes
  • Building forts
  • Collecting rocks and pinecones

So what does that leave exactly? Apparently, playing on an approved synthetic playground apparatus and observing nature from a safe distance. Parks should be a source of fun for kids, but with all of these restrictions, they just become another area where children are being told what they can and cannot do.

Granted, there’s nothing inherently wrong with slides, seesaws and monkey bars. These are valid sources of recreation for children. Still, they are no substitute for the freedom and creativity that comes with letting kids loose in the wilderness.

Thinking back to my own childhood, I never enjoyed a swing set even half as much as I did playing in the forest. My friends and I climbed trees, built forts, made art out of leaves and rocks, and even unsuccessfully tried to catch minnows in the nearby brook with our hands. We invented games and scenarios utilizing the natural objects around us, and no one ever told us we were doing it wrong. So many of these activities I cherished — the ones that actually seemed fun enough that I willingly went outside and left my television and Game Boy behind — are explicitly not permitted in Oregon parks.

Some conservationists have helped to develop these rules in an effort to “protect” nature and keep the parks looking beautiful. Although I’m sure their actions are well intentioned, I believe them to be misguided. If you want kids to develop an appreciation and respect for nature, drawing a sharp division between them and the natural world will not help to foster that outlook.

It’s the direct interactions that kids have with nature that will help them to care more about the environment. While climbing trees as a kid, did I ever accidentally snap off some branches? I’m sure I did. However, let’s not mistake my curiosity and play with a disrespect for nature. On the contrary, I came to nature more after having these experiences.

Particularly in urban settings where children don’t often have yards of their own to play outdoors without regulations, it is important to maintain park space as a place where kids can free their minds and get up-close-and-personal with nature. If you find the current barrage of rules stifling and unnecessary, you can join the effort to restore natural play for children at public parks.

Sign this petition directed at the State of Oregon Parks and Recreation Law Makers urging them to cut back on the rules that take all of the fun out of a park experience.


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga3 years ago


kathrynelizabet Etier

It's all about $$$.

Lynn C.
Lynn C3 years ago

Thank you Stephanie Redman for your letter to Care2 members letting us know what this is all about. When too many people converge upon an area it will take a lot of wear and tear which leaves little for the long term enjoyment of all who wish for a wilderness experience. Rationally, there would have to be some sort of rules for use to keep those areas viable representations of that wilderness.

Susan T.
Susan T3 years ago

Most kids I have observed lately need to be kept on leashes as they have not been taught by their parents how to act correctly in public.

Susan T.
Susan T3 years ago

these rules are ridiculous! Last year some places in CA made playing frisbee and football on beaches illegal.
nanny state .... not allowed to do some of these things are understandable because some kids (lots) are little thugs and creeps. There has been no parental influence on a lot of kids for several decades.
I bet if parents would start to be parents and swat their kids on the ass when they misbehave, ground them, take away their "devices" it may change their crappy attitude of I can do whatever I want whenever I want. Country is going to HELL because of liberal baby boomer permissive attitudes.

Roxana Saez
Roxana Saez3 years ago


Dennis D.
Past Member 3 years ago


Deborah W.
Deborah W3 years ago

More insane rules and regulations, compliments of your unfriendly government. Additional perimetered-control at all levels, curtailing freedom until all are hurt.

When will enough be enough for the masses to retaliate? We The People have the numbers, you know, and if used correctly can repair large chunks of a once great nation.

We hired them, we can fire them.

Stephanie R.
Stephanie R.3 years ago

Part II of my comment:

For example, Silver Falls State Park is holding a grand opening of its new natural play areas in late May, the Portland Children's Museum has opened its "Outdoor Adventure" area, and other park systems have designated natural play areas. Our association's "Outdoor Seekers" program (www.outdoorseekers.com) is a great resource to identify family-friendly outdoor recreation areas throughout Oregon, and a group of park and recreation professionals meets regularly to discuss promote natural play standards within the profession through ONPlay - the Oregon Natural Play Initiative (http://oregonplay.wordpress.com/).

While we support the democratic process and right to petition and encourage citizens to take an active role in their municipal, county, state, and special districts parks, it's important to realize that the state legislature exercises little authority over the rules of use that govern a municipal, county, or park district facility. Residents and concerned citizens are much more likely to influence what happens at their favorite municipal, county, or district park facility by working directly with the park staff and advisory or governing boards to share their ideas and concerns with those individuals and organizations. Ditto for state parks.

We encourage folks to have their say with the appropriate individuals and governing body that oversee specific parks, and then to get out and play!

Stephanie Redman, Executive Director
Oregon Recreat