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Habitat: Sapling Woods 

click to enlarge Sarah and Sean Prentiss with daughter Winter - BRETT STANCIU
  • Brett Stanciu
  • Sarah and Sean Prentiss with daughter Winter

This summer, a neighbor offered Sarah and Sean Prentiss a free plastic child's swing for their almost-2-year-old daughter, Winter. Project-oriented Sean, who didn't want their neighbor believing "she wasted her time getting it to us," promptly hung the caterpillar-shaped swing from a tree near their home on Turtle Cove, a private bay on Greenwood Lake in Woodbury with scenic mountain views. Thus began a homemade playground project.

Within weeks, the couple created a unique forest path dotted with DIY playground equipment, using scrap wood, plenty of imagination and just a small amount of money. Inspired by a similar project from Sarah's childhood, the family christened their creation the Sapling Woods.

click to enlarge Winter explores the rope web - BRETT STANCIU
  • Brett Stanciu
  • Winter explores the rope web

The path winds gradually up a gentle hillside. Along the way are a donated slide and swings, smooth stumps for climbing, several balance beams, a wooden swing that Sean built, and a bench for parents to rest.

In one bend, a spider web of rope strung between two trees creates an unusual climbing challenge. Nearby, a triangle-shaped handhold suspended from a branch with rope serves as a swing that can be easily adjusted to accommodate children of different heights.

click to enlarge A salvaged seesaw - BRETT STANCIU
  • Brett Stanciu
  • A salvaged seesaw

Sean, a writer and teacher at Norwich University and the Vermont College of Fine Arts, built a seesaw with a 60-year-old board salvaged from the childhood seesaw of Sarah's uncle. Still in process is a "woods kitchen," centered around a child-sized table, constructed of evenly cut branches bound with rope. Sarah plans to stock the kitchen with muffin tins and durable pots and pans.

Toddler-sized obstacles along the path — like small ladders for climbing and bridges made from wood slats — give Winnie "a sense of where her body's going," strengthening her developing sense of spatial awareness, while also allowing her to have fun, explained Sarah, a physical therapist at Central Vermont Home Health & Hospice.

"This is Winnie's zone," Sean emphasized. "The kids' zone... It's their place to do what they want to do. And she gets to... choose her own risk level. It varies by day."

The trail leads to the nearby home of Nina Livellara, Nate Doyon and their almost-crawling daughter, Chloe. The couple, both professional chefs, envision adding an outdoor oven with a grill beside the path for festive neighborhood gatherings. Livellara said she and Sarah spent many summer hours chatting on the path's bench while their daughters amused themselves in the nearby double swing.

click to enlarge Dan Huskes and son Jayce stop by for a swing - BRETT STANCIU
  • Brett Stanciu
  • Dan Huskes and son Jayce stop by for a swing

For the Prentisses, nurturing community is especially important. Sean imagines the path will expand as his daughter grows, and he anticipates neighborhood kids wandering free-range from house to house. To complement the lakeside landscape, he envisions adding a boat-inspired treehouse when his daughter is ready to climb high.

For now, the nature-loving family spends plenty of time on the ground in the Sapling Woods, making early morning pilgrimages with coffee in hand. "At the breakfast table, Winnie says, 'Swing? Swing?'" Sarah said with a laugh. "We're like, 'OK, we're going.'"

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