AUBURN – A new “nature playground” at Auburn University lets children enjoy the great outdoors in a manner experienced by previous generations: climbing, crawling, digging and exploring.
The Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve, a community outreach program for the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, recently opened the wooded playground and will hold a dedication ceremony at 10 a.m. Nov. 10 with university officials and civic leaders. The public is invited to join the festivities at the preserve on North College Street, or Highway 147, just past the Auburn University fish ponds.
Guest speakers will include Auburn University President Jay Gogue, Dean Richard Brinker of the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, Alabama Rep. Mike Hubbard and City of Auburn Mayor Bill Ham. They will give brief remarks while standing in a large eagle’s nest replica, one of the features of the playground. In case of rain, the ceremony will be held in the preserve’s pavilion.
Afterward, Auburn mascot Aubie and students from Cary Woods Elementary School will explore the playground. The Auburn Chamber of Commerce will serve lemonade and cookies as well.
“This playground has rich, naturalistic play spaces full of mounds, logs, tunnels, fallen trees, boulders and some creative structures including a tree house, beaver lodge and eagle’s nest,” said Forest Ecology Preserve Administrator Jennifer Lolley, who designed the playground with advice from Auburn University Landscape Architecture Assistant Professor Jocelyn Zanzot. “It is not like conventional swing-and-slide playgrounds.”
USA TODAY newspaper mentioned Auburn’s playground last April along with similar playgrounds in Phoenix, Chicago and New York. Auburn University McWhorter School of Building Science Associate Professor Linda Ruth, who specializes in playground design, was interviewed in the article.
“We appreciate the national recognition that Auburn is receiving for its natural playgrounds,” Ruth said later. “Since the inception of playgrounds at the start of the 20th century, playground design has advanced dramatically beyond the traditional playgrounds of isolated metal pieces of play equipment.”
Funding was secured through a grant from the Alabama Forests Forever Foundation which is supported through sales of Alabama Forests car tags. Local businesses, contractors and organizations also donated materials and labor for the project, while hundreds of Auburn University students did most of the volunteer labor. Lee County and City of Auburn workers helped Auburn’s Facilities Division on aspects that required big machinery, such as moving boulders and logs.
“We feel the playground will attract children and families to our beautiful nature preserve and hopefully that will become a conduit to explore the great outdoors,” Lolley said.
“We need to encourage more play outside for the sake of our children’s health. Research indicates children ages 3-12 spend only 1 percent of their time outdoors, but they spend 27 percent of their day on some version of social media. This generation of children is being labeled with having Nature-Deficit Disorder.”
Nature-Deficit Disorder is a term coined by Richard Louv, author of seven books about the connections between family, nature and community.
The Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve was established in 1993 by a gift of land from Louise Kreher Turner and Frank Allen Turner. It covers 120 acres and has five miles of hiking trails, an amphitheater and a pavilion. The preserve, including the nature playground, is open daily to the public at no charge.
Memberships are available, however, offering access to member-only events, discounts on educational programs and early admission and discounts on summer camps. Membership fees provide the majority of financial support for the preserve. More information is available on the preserve’s website (http://www.auburn.edu/preserve).
(Written by Charles Martin.)