Playground, acoustics added to Inner Arbor park

A family playscape and an audio way-finding device, dubbed the Merriground and Merriweather Horns, are the latest additions to the Inner Arbor Trust's design for an arts park in Columbia's northern Symphony Woods.

Both additions to the 16.5-acre park design, which proposes a guest services building called the Butterfly made of glass and mirrors, an outdoor amphitheater called the Chrysalis, a 300-foot-long floating picnic table and the Caterpillar, an 800-foot-long, 15-foot high tube dividing the park from neighboring Merriweather Post Pavilion, will be revealed at the trust's presentation to Howard County's Design Advisory Panel scheduled for Feb. 26.

Trust President Michael McCall said the latest designs are in line with the rest of the plans for the park.

"Just as the Caterpillar is the Art of Bounds between Merriweather and Symphony Woods, so are Merriweather Horns the Art of Arrival, the welcoming embrace of a very special place. Just as the picnic table is the Art of Seating, Merriground is the Art of Play," McCall said in a news release.

He said the additions will not move the needle on the price tag for the park, which he estimates will be in the $30 million range.

The Merriground, which is designed by landscape architect Martha Schwartz, is a 9,000-square-foot playground that will feature rope swings, two slides, a 46-foot tower and other non-traditional play features.

Merriweather Horns, which are designed by artist William Cochran, known locally for painting the mural on the Community Bridge in Frederick, are sculptural horns located throughout the park that will play high-quality music and soundscapes, McCall said.

The Merriground will serve as a gathering point and will replace the previously planned chain-link maze as the park's play feature, McCall said.

McCall said the Trust wanted the play feature to cast a wider net, and added that the location and design of the maze threw off the pacing of the park.

"We want to make sure our precious investment has room to breathe and [is] not inundating guests with too much," McCall said. "We need to have things for families; what we are providing here is broader and more physically active, the activities are more conventional."

McCall said the design of the playground will rely heavily on wood, which he said is a natural fit for the park. Each of the eight playground features are designed in a common circle-theme.

"The circle is the unifying form across my work for Merriweather Park," Schwartz said in a news release. "Its generous geometry symbolizes bringing people together, the circle of multigenerational life and of carefree play in the heart of the community."

McCall said the horns, which will be located at the four entrances to the park, will be synchronized to work in unison, and can be specially programmed for special events.

There are four different types of horns – Skyhorns, Land Horns, Song Cycles and Tone Reeds. Each horn type will be placed at a different entrance. A fifth type, called pathfinders, will provide way-finding guidance through the park at 13 different locations.

Cochran, who grew up in Clarksville, said the horns were inspired by his experiences working at Merriweather as a teenager.

"I loved how people gathered to hear those incredible sounds in that beautiful setting," Cochran said in a news release. "I designed Merriweather Horns to honor that sense of place and create new ways to connect with sound, beauty and nature."

McCall said the design team is looking forward to presenting to the panel, which is a seven-member board that "encourages excellence in the project's architecture and site design."

McCall said he hopes to be through the county approval process by summer and could begin construction on the amphitheater and other aspects of phase one in the fall.

Earlier this month, the Trust received 501(c)3 designation from the Internal Revenue Service, McCall said, which will allow them to receive grants and accept tax-deductible donations. The designation, which McCall said was granted surprisingly early, is a big step for the Trust because McCall has said he hopes to fund the project through grants and donations.

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