November 03, 2021

Pathways for Play National Demonstration Sites

One of the National Demonstration Site (NDS) designations presented by PlayCore is related to trails and trail-based play. The research behind the need for nature play and trail-based activities is found in the Pathways for Play® guidebook. By leveraging this best practice research to create linear trails filled with playful activity, communities encourage children and families to play together and reconnect with one another and with the natural environment.

The purpose of Pathways for Play is to intentionally integrate play — critical for children’s health — into walkable, bikeable, shared use community pathway networks. Research shows that playful pathways attract children and families and may significantly increase frequency and duration of use.

Partners for Nature Play

PlayCore partners with the Natural Learning Initiative, College of Design, NC State University, to help professionals and community champions create opportunities to “bring people to nature.” Pathways for Play and GameTime's Play Trails products create playful routes for families to explore, discover, learn, and be physically active together surrounded by nature. 

Pathways for Play National Demonstration Sites infuse play into trails, greenways, and shared parks to motivate children, families, and youth organizations to get outdoors and engage in healthy, stimulating activity in nature. It's a different kind of "natural playground" that integrates manufactured playground equipment into natural spaces.


To help communities meet the requirements of a National Demonstration Site, GameTime provides the Pathways for Play guidebook. Developed by PlayCore with the Natural Learning Initiative at NC State University, it includes all the information your community needs to create playful pathways that connect children and families with the outdoors. 

Meeting NDS Best Practice Requirements

Becoming a National Demonstration Site requires communities to submit their project to PlayCore for consideration. The PlayCore NDS evaluation team reviews the project and conducts interviews with community stakeholders to determine if the site qualifies for designation:

  • Assess form, location, access, usability, safety, and regulations when evaluating an existing or planned pathway.
  • Connect pathways to meaningful destinations in locations where children live to support their independent mobility.
  • Promote environmental literacy and learning by integrating play pockets along the path. Play pockets include themes for learning, educational signage, and playful activities that enhance the overall play value.
  • Integrate at least three play pockets at appropriate distances apart to encourage movement and discovery.

Designing an NDS Pathway

One of the ways GameTime helps communities create a playful pathway is with Play Trails®, a trail-based approach to play environments. Using our nature-themed play products and educational signage, we help you infuse a new or existing trail or greenway with playful pockets that encourage discovery and exploration, provide fun activities for the entire family, and offer playful educational content about animals, their habitats and life cycles.


Example of a Play Trail typology with play pockets at regular intervals to encourage exploration


Play Trails can be installed with or without a traditional playground structure. Some communities install a play system at the trail head to encourage people to gather and play before exploring the trail. Other communities choose to make the Play Trails products part of playful discovery as families walk along the trail and find new opportunities to play around each bend of the path.

Explore Nature in a Playful Way

Trail-based play encourages children to explore the outdoors and connects families with one another. The research from the Natural Learning Initiative, combined with innovative playground equipment from GameTime, helps communities infuse trails and greenways with playful activities for everyone. No matter how you choose to design a playful pathway, you will help children learn an appreciation of the natural world around them, bring families closer together and connect areas of your community in a fun, active and playful way.

Learn more about Play Trails and the Pathways for Play National Demonstration Site designation by talking with the Play Trails expert in your neighborhood.