By Jack Rubinger

The Mt. Tabor Community Nature Playground, a new nature-is-nurture interactive play space, is underway at the corner of SE 54th Ave. and Belmont St. 

The 70’x42’ playground has been created, built and fundraised by parents and volunteers led by Emily Shamrell, Celeste Larson, Autumn Bettinger, Klara Jolesz and Tara Sawyer. 

The work began in August 2018 after the Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church’s insurance required the removal of the twenty year old outdated and unsafe play structure after many years.

The renovation project is a result of two organizations – Pea Pod Playschool and the Mt. Tabor Preschool. Both came together to build a better resource for their families and the community. 

Tara Sawyer, Executive Director of Pea Pod, is a landscape planner specializing in parks and playground design. She volunteered her services to map and implement the construction.

Work parties from both organizations have built fences, finished sandboxes, dug and moved dirt and installed extensive plantings. Even the kids got involved, gladly helping to dig in the dirt.

Once sufficient funds are raised, the nature playground will have a new play structure in the center. The Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church owns the property and the two schools and the public use the space.  

Volunteers are hoping to be done by June 1 and host a formal opening at that time. They’d like to make it a community event, with the pastor blessing the space and  a celebration with donuts.

Parents and volunteers have been focusing on community outreach, since this little playground is shared by Pea Pod, the Mt. Tabor Preschool and (outside of designated school times) the greater neighborhood. 

Photo credit Tara Sawyer, The Pea Pod Family Resource Center

“As a community of parents we’ve spent time raising money through donations and fundraising as well as reaching out to local businesses, such as Portland Nursery, for discounts and plant donations,”  Autumn Bettinger said.

“The playground is coming together and we’re very proud of the progress we’ve made,” she continued. 

“We’ve included a little rain garden for the kiddos and are actively working on a kitchen garden. We’ve spent the bulk of our funds on grading, cement-laying and wood chips so far. We don’t have a ton left over for plants, which is the biggest component for an interactive, environmentally educational space.” 

The neighborhood itself has contributed garden donations and more plants are needed to actively improve the Tabor neighborhood.

“We’re hoping to spread the awareness of our project so perhaps more people might want to get involved and we can see our vision come to life,” said Emily Shamrell, Vice-President of Mt. Tabor Preschool.

The project is a work in progress with two phases. 

Phase one includes grading, concrete work, wood chips and fencing and is complete. Phase two will include all the planting, the play structure, shade sails, a kitchen garden and rain garden which will emphasize the Pacific Northwest’s natural environment with tons of plants to touch and interact like rattling in the winter wind, stones in spirals, plant tunnels and more.

“There was a period when a bunch of two to three-year olds were stuck inside during construction,” said Bettinger. 

“Other than that, it’s been pretty smooth and a real learning experience for us as we learned how to present plans, apply for costly city permits and use other tools to make this playground a reality.”

Donations to this project can be made at