By John Lauritsen

DELANO, Minn. (WCCO) — Follow any kid through a playground, and you’ll follow a path full of random twists and turns.

And as kids swing, spin and slide, parents are watching.

“I really like it because I feel like kids get to move and use their bodies in ways that we really didn’t get to try and do,” said parent Jasmine Hanson while watching her kids at French Regional Park.

Gone are the days of creaky merry-go-rounds and old, metal slides. Here to stay are 30-foot towers and rope nets that build strength and balance — and it’s all linked to one company.

“It just becomes wilder and wilder with the years. We’ve really taken playgrounds to a whole new level,” said Pat Faust.

Faust is president of Landscape Structures in Delano.

It all began when founder Steve King wrote a college thesis about playgrounds of the future. The professor gave him a C+. The public gave him an A+.

“He created one of these models and the phone started ringing. Within a year he was doing it in his garage on his own,” Faust said.

His wife Barb joined the business and together they began a different kind of climb. One that took them from a few employees to nearly 600.

Today, Landscape Structures is involved in about 3,500 playground projects a year. Ringtangles, Oodle Swings and Omni Spins have replaced playground equipment of the past.

Plastic, steel, aluminum and recycled materials are used to make about 2,000 parts a day, and hundreds of color combinations can give a futuristic look to any play place.

Faust says the ideas behind the innovation come from his customers — the kids.

“We talk to kids. They’re our customers at the end of the day,” Faust said.

Scott Roschi is the creative director for Landscape Structures. To figure out what kids want, they welcome suggestions from all ages.

From American Ninja Warrior-style courses to epic projects, children are behind some of their greatest creations. Their biggest competitors are iPads and iPhones, so they focus on continuous play, social skills and fitness for everyone.

“They are talking about inclusion. They are talking about increased accessibility with wheelchairs. And creating this rainbow bridge onto the playground,” said Roschi.

The idea is that the world is a playground and Landscape Structures can prove it. They’ve now installed more than 75,000 playgrounds worldwide.

“The design language and the language of play is the same around the world. Kids want to play and we can help them do that,” said Roschi.

This is the busiest time of year for Landscape Structures. They also make splash pads.

They say one thing they are especially proud of is the majority of the materials they use are Minnesota-made.

John Lauritsen

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