The resident hawks in Bel Air's Plumtree Park have had plenty of unusual human activity to gaze upon the past few weeks, as the park's two playgrounds each received a significant makeover.

The lower playground closest to downtown got a new swingset and a new sliding board and climbing feature, and both playgrounds received new features – stones and logs and stumps – made from a concrete process. The upper playground closest to Howard Park got new equipment more than a year ago.

The latest playground work, which began the week of June 10 and was mostly complete at the end of last week, is part of an ongoing series of improvements to the downtown park that also included the daylighting of Plumtree Run – removing the underground pipes that carried the stream under the park for the previous half-century – and trimming or removing some of the trees to increase the visibility of the park, which occupies roughly a block between Thomas Street on the north and George Street on the south.

The stream daylighting, completed at the end of 2012, was done to improve water quality along the entire Plumtree watershed and for flooding control, Bel Air Planning Director Kevin Small explained in a recent e-mail.

The playground work is part of an overall improvement to Plumtree that includes the daylight of the stream and landscape to improve the water quality and flooding issues and trimming/removal of trees to increase the visibility into the park.

Small said the playground work was done for a variety of reasons, including to increase safety by providing required separation between structures (and from each play equipment and the edge of the playground, according to Small), provide handicapped accessibility, create better drainage with trenching gravel drains and to separate the age groups using the playgrounds in to ages 2 to 5 for the lower and 5 to 12 years for the upper. 

"We replaced swings that were old and did not meet requirements for the toddlers, removed old less safe equipment and added new integrated 'tree house' equipment for the younger ages," Small explained in his e-mail.

"We wanted to provide a unique experience for kids by playing off the organic and natural elements the stream work provided," he continued. "This meant replacing the timber edge with molded concrete rocks, adding climbing boulders to both play areas and adding benches, seats and tables resembling boulders, logs and stumps. In addition, two bike racks designed to look like leafs were installed at both street entrances."

The molded concrete rocks and tree stumps and trunks made from concrete were done by Akehurst Landscape Service of Joppa using a hardscape process called StoneMakers developed by a New Hampshire company.

"As you can see, we created a sculpted stone border and site amenities such as seats, benches and tables to look like stones, boulders, tree stumps and logs; all hand sculpted using the StoneMaker process," William Akehurst, of the landscaping company, wrote in an e-mail.

While the latest work in the park was taking place, a few members of the park's red shouldered hawk colony, which seems to increase in size with each new breeding season, were observed checking out some of the new structures, during a few daily visits to the park. Others could be heard wailing away up in the trees.

The StoneMakers work was completed on June 26, and town crews did much of the final landscaping around both playgrounds over the next two days. The new swings on the lower playground have not been put into use immediately, however, as that part of the playground is awaiting a new mulch cushion, Small said.

Small said the town also plans to install a paved path from Thomas to George streets, also accessing the playgrounds and basketball court, which is expected to be done in late summer. 

Also planned is construction of a pavilion between the playgrounds to provide a covered area for parents, Small explained. Existing lighting will be relocated and new lighting added to increase security.

If the budget allows, he added, the town will also provide a public art element to the park. 

According to Small, the new playground equipment cost approximately $57,000. The cost of all the elements, including the landscape work, playgrounds, path, pavilion and lighting will be $200,000.

Small said the project has been paid for in with a grant from Maryland Community Parks and Playgrounds and with contributions from the Greater Bel Air Community Foundation and Harford County Parks and Recreation.