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Dinosaurs in a Desert Oasis
Thunder Junction All Abilities Park, St. George, Utah

Landscape Architecture by City of St. George Park Planning Division


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Thunder Junction is in St. George, Utah, located in the far southwestern corner part of the state, near the tri-state junction of Utah, Arizona and Nevada. The $5.5 million "Dinosaurs in a Desert Oasis" themed park took 3 and one half years to design and build.


The city of St. George's Park Planning Division located in southern Utah has a long history of providing high quality park and trail amenities throughout the community. One of the newest additions to these facilities is the Thunder Junction All Abilities Park. This expansive, creative park is located on 7 acres, two acres of which is devoted to a playground.

The Thunder Junction project took approximately 3 and one half years to design and build and cost $5.5 million. The theme is "Dinosaurs in a Desert Oasis" and features a variety of universally accessible play equipment, a rumbling and erupting volcano with a Jurassic fort and slides, iconic dinosaur sculptures, an interactive water feature with a sculpted cave experience, climbing wall, sensory garden with musical instruments, wheelchair accessible train that travels along a looped rail line from a train depot, shade structures, restrooms and beautifully landscaped surroundings.



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Engineers installed a 20' span x 10.25' rise x 16' long precast modular bridge for the train in just one day. The bridge had to support the small train loading and accommodate the lighting conduits. The precast wing walls extended above the headwall to facilitate custom railing highlighting the park entrance and railroad crossing. Cultured stone for the wing walls and 'Torch' light fixtures were the finishing touches. A mural was painted on the ceiling with decorative artwork mounted to the interior of the arch and adjacent retaining walls.


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The twists and turns of the 12-panel Mobius (Landscape Structures) are a definite climbing challenge for kids.


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The Thunder Junction custom train depot is the 'Mesa' model from Classic Recreation Systems, Inc. It incorporates a ticket booth, loading platform and tower. The design is by architect Mark Goble. If you just missed the train, the corrugated roof offers a shady spot to wait and relax.


The St. George city manager and leisure services director, both of whom have grandchildren with special needs, originally initiated the project. They spent many years working with special needs groups and recognized this was an underserved demographic in their community.

This ambitious park was designed in-house by landscape architect's Jeff Peay and Mark Goble, along with park planner Van Phetsomphou, all of whom work for the St. George Park Planning Division. The city also worked with local engineers Phil Giles and Taylor Ricks and architect Bill Western to complete specific design plans.

The city park planning staff met with the community and several special needs groups to introduce the design concept and get feedback to further develop the park and playground. The city landscape architects took the lead with project management during construction to ensure the execution of the original project vision. The city worked with general contractors J.P. Excavating Inc. during phase 1 of the project, which involved mass grading, utilities, parking, train tunnels and other preliminary construction. During phase 2 of the construction, Bud Mahas Construction worked with the city to perform the detailed work and complete the park as it exists today.



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The park offers a quarter scale wheel chair accessible C.P. Huntington train manufactured by Chance Rides (www.chancerides.com). The company, based in Wichita, also makes roller coasters and all manner of amusement rides. The train is modeled after one at the golden spike ceremony in Promontory Summit in 1869. The train runs along a 2,700-foot rail loop and passes through several tunnels. The sandstone tunnel behind the upper level of the waterfall exposes riders to a cooler microclimate of water, mist and shade.


Children with special needs can find it difficult to play on standard playground equipment, limiting the benefits of the social, physical and emotional interaction that play offers. Thunder Junction was specifically designed and constructed to accommodate children with special needs and abilities, allowing them to join family and friends in exploring and experiencing the park together. The park was always intended to provide a multitude of interactive and immersive elements and opportunities for kids of all ages and abilities to play and learn together. The park also serves as a gathering place for families of children with special needs so that they can meet and receive support from each other as well as from formal support groups.



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The prominent 30' tall volcano has fog machines and an acoustic sound system to replicate regularly scheduled eruptions. Within the volcano are accessible ramps leading to an elevated Jurassic themed fort/play structure that overlooks the park. The Jurassic Fort has safe elevated vantage points, tactile creatures and spiral slides down to the lower playground.


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It's not every day a kid can ride a triceratops. This marvelously detailed GRFC dino by Themed Concepts functions as a climber and has a slide off the back end. It's more conventionally accessed by a second level platform that also takes you under the volcano and to the Treehouse/Jurassic Fort and its tube slides.


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he park has two zip lines ('ZipKrooz') placed side-by-side. The rider just sits in one of the comfortable bucket seats, which is suspended by a rubber-wrapped chain. A 4-wheel trolley smoothly glides the rider to the end and back again without any physical exertion by the rider.


Thunder Junction is different from most all-abilities playground in that it isn't based on premanufactured post and platform play apparatuses. And many of the play pieces on the playground serve dual purpose--play and physical therapy. The playground includes pieces from Landscape Structures, GameTime, Themed Concepts and Cemrock. Play pieces include the wheelchair accessible 'Sway Fun', dueling zip lines, expression swing, basket swing, a large GFRC dinosaur slide, dinosaur climbers, a horizontal roller slide, outdoor musical equipment and dual stainless steel slides.

The playground surfacing was provided by Nottsport and includes a synthetic surfacing called 'SurfacePlay', a carpet-like product top dressed with sand that the city had successfully used on a previous project. This surfacing allowed creative patterns to be incorporated onto the playground, adding another level of detail to the design. This surfacing also stays much cooler during the hot summer months when compared to some of the other products the city has traditionally used. Poured-in-place concrete raised planters are included throughout the playground to introduce vegetation and natural shade into the playground. The raised planters also provide a multitude of seating opportunities for park visitors.

The prominent three-story high volcano serves as a shade structure and gathering area that has murals and interpretive information within. The volcano serves as a center point for the park and includes several sound and sensory elements: fog machines and an acoustic sound system that replicate an active volcano, which erupts on a regular schedule. Within the volcano are a series of accessible ramps leading to an elevated Jurassic themed fort/play structure that overlooks the park. The Jurassic Fort provides safe elevated vantage points, tactile creatures and spiral slides down to the lower playground.



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A grotto-like cave, accessible from two sides, allows children to go behind the waterfall and venture into a shallow wading pool. There is also a meandering stream that leads to a dramatic dinosaur skull fossil protruding from a prominent rock outcropping.


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The waterfall and interactive water feature are reminiscent of the surrounding red rock and slot canyons of southern Utah. Water construction specialists created the faux rockwork for the water feature and volcano, which includes a multitude of intricate detailed carvings of dinosaurs and realistic sandstone rock formations. Sunset Pools, a premier local pool contractor, donated a large portion of the material and labor for the impressive multilevel waterfall and water feature.


The waterfall and interactive water feature are reminiscent of the surrounding red rock and slot canyons located around southern Utah. The design intent surrounding this feature was to allow those with mobility challenges to access and experience the incredible detail and scale associated with these iconic Utah landscapes. Local sculptor/contractor Dreamweaver Specialties created the faux rockwork associated with the water feature and volcano, which includes a multitude of intricate detailed carvings of dinosaurs and realistic sandstone rock formations.

Sunset Pools, a premier local pool contractor, donated a large portion of the material and labor for the impressive multilevel waterfall and water feature. The water feature includes a grotto like cave that can be accessed from two sides. Children can go behind the waterfall and venture out into a shallow wading area. There is also a meandering stream that leads to a dramatic fossil--an impressive dinosaur skull protruding from a large rock outcropping. The water feature is surrounded by abundant landscaping and is accessible by wheelchair.

The park offers a quarter scale wheel chair accessible C.P. Huntington train manufactured by Chance Rides. The train circumnavigates the park along a 2,700-foot rail line loop and passes through several tunnels along its route. On its journey, the train passes behind the upper level of the waterfall through a sandstone tunnel, exposing riders to a microclimate created by shade and water mist. The train is modeled after one used in the historic golden spike ceremony that is significant to Utah's heritage. Editor's note: The May 10, 1869 ceremony to drive the last stake that joined the Union and Central Pacific Railroads at Promontory Summit, Utah, signified the completion of the U.S. transcontinental railroad. There is even a large themed depot with a ticket booth and loading platform located in the park, which serves as a multiuse shade structure when the train isn't running. The train is operated by local volunteers and city staff and has been quite the popular park element.



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The tot area offers smaller scale dinosaur fun along with an 'Expression Swing' (GameTime) that allows parents to sit on a swing across from their child's bucket swing, putting them face-to-face for a more intimate bonding experience.


The design team wanted to encourage community ownership and involvement in the project's development, so significant artwork and murals were incorporated into the park design and experience. Much of the artwork and mural mosaics were developed in cooperation with special needs groups and others living in the greater St. George community. Members of the community were enlisted and involved in providing the artwork through the "Hands that Built the Park" donation program. Other groups and generous people joined together with the city to help fund and build this extraordinary park and playground facility.

The city's park maintenance and technical crews were heavily involved with the landscaping. They were able to successfully relocate large donated palms and several mature trees to the park to provide instant shade and site impact. Many of the trees came from the park division's tree nursery. The city's park planning and park maintenance staff worked to coordinate efforts and keep the project on budget and within schedule.

Thunder Junction offers sensory experiences, creative landscape architectural treatments and inclusive play options. This gem in the heart of southern Utah has been a labor of love for those who have worked on it and donated to it. It definitely warrants a visit.


Project Team
Owner: City of St. George
Landscape Architect: City of St. George Park Planning Division: Jeff Peay, Mark Goble
Park Planner: City of St. George Park Planning Division: Van Phetsomphou
Architect: Western Architect (formerly Western Design Group): Bill Western
Civil Engineer: Jviation, Inc. (formerly Creamer & Noble Inc.): Phil Giles, Taylor Ricks
Structural Engineer: Rosenberg Associates, Michael Robinson
Project Manager: City of St. George Park Planning Division: Jeff Peay, Mark Goble
General Contractor Phase 1: JP Excavating, Inc., Mike Evans
General Contractor Phase 2: Bud Mahas Construction, Inc., Walker Melling, JR Ashton
Faux Rock Contractor: Dreamweaver Specialties, Inc., Randy Paul
Water Feature Contractor: Sunset Pools and Landscaping: Jeff Norton
Train Track Contractor: Railworks Track Systems Inc.
Gametime Representative: Great Western Park & Playground: Lewis Painter
Landscape Structures Inc. Rep.: Sonntag Recreation: Chris Sonntag, Jeremiah Webb
Others of Mention: City of St. George Parks Division, City of St. George Water Services Department, City of St. George Public Works Department, and the many gracious donors and volunteers

List of Manufacturers Specified for the Project
Play Equipment: Landscape Structures Inc., GameTime
Treehouse/Jurassic Fort, Triceratops Slide: Themed Concepts
GFRC Dinosaurs: Cemrock
Outdoor Musical Equipment: Freenotes Harmony Park
Playground Surfacing: Notts Sport
Shade Sails: Landscape Structures Inc., GameTime
Pavilion: Classic Recreation Systems, Inc.
Train: Chance Rides
Train Depot: Classic Recreation Systems, Inc.
Train Bridge/Entryway: Contech Engineered Solutions



As seen in LASN magazine, September 2017.






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