Celebrating Ten Years of the Zauberwald: Magic for all Ages

With the forest floor covered in a thick carpet of evergreen needles, “the patter of little feet” may have been harder to hear in the Zauberwald (Magic Forest) on 16 July, but that didn’t mean that any had stayed away. On the contrary: the village of Ernen chose that day to celebrate the tenth birthday of its marvelous children’s outdoor adventure playground with a festive jubilee, and a handsome number of children and their parents came.

My friend Martin and I got there early, and had a friendly welcome by Irisea and Talitha, two young women from the Ernen Tourist Office, who pointed us in the direction of activities. An information board at the entrance also gave us the cautions and rules. The path is suitable for children if accompanied by an adult. Look through the intermittently placed telescopes to find the next activity station. Observe the posted silhouettes of small red squirrels that stand for “Stop,” and don’t go beyond them. All points taken.

Enchanting from the start, the Zauberland forest itself was as striking as it was inviting. The forest path is soft with evergreen needles, but ancient red pines and gnarled or split boulders make the background close to bizarre, a film set for magical events that nobody does better than Mother Nature herself.

Given that spread, all order of natural materials − stones, water, branches, pine cones, moss − are the building blocks for a host of activities and experiences in the forest. There are some two dozen stations that invite interaction, each one designed in accord with the landscape where it’s placed. Figuring among them is a mini-mountain pulley like those used to bring supplies up to higher altitudes in alpine regions. Here at the Zauberwald, kids can load the carriage with favorite stones, leaves or pinecones, for example, then draw the load up and down over the side of a steep incline. There’s also a balance beam nearby that sways some 6 inches above the ground and offers a chance to “walk the plank,” but has cords around it to make it harmless. Further, a colorful slippery slide invites a good “swoosh” downwards, and a log-covered cavern invites “secret meetings” or just a moment’s rest.

I especially loved the simply made “chimes” near the slippery slide: different lengths of small logs hung vertically from a rafter, with a mallet that could bring out the sound engineer in any of us. What’s more, the crunchy bed of pinecones and woods roughage set out to tickle the feet was good fun to step over.

The makings for all kinds of art projects were also at visitors’ beck and call for the jubilee. Coloring and cutting, pasting and assembly kept little hands busy at a number of tables in a central area, where some 15 large picnic tables offered refreshments and simple fare from barbeque grill. Not surprisingly, the good-spirited grill lads also clearly liked their work!

Near the end of the event, visitors could follow the story of Brüna, a little red squirrel who has found her place in the rich catalogue of Ernen legends. In Andreas Wiessen’s story, Brüna undergoes all kinds of adventures while looking for her winter store of food within the magic forest, and makes a fascinating discovery at the end. Set in the Zauberwald itself, the story nicely hit home.

In sum, whether you have children, or have a child in you, the Ernen Zauberwald is a place of exploration, adventure, and bizarre beauty, and its entrance is only a mere 3-minute bus ride from the Dorfplatz in Ernen. The discover park is highly recommended!

Ernen, Tuesday, 18 July 2017, by Sarah Batschelet

Click here to visit the website of the Zauberwald (Magic Forest)

Note: Thanks to Linda Mooser, trainee at the local newspaper, Walliserbote, for her additional help with these photographs. She supplied the last four shown here.