The fall season is a wonderful time to visit the Anita Purves Nature Center. The weather is often favourable, wildlife is busy preparing for winter, and all sorts of changes are taking place in the natural environment.
Indeed, every time we stroll through Busey Woods lately, we seem to be greeted by new mushrooms springing up from the ground or a fawn browsing on a low tree branch. Goldenrod flowers abound in the habitat gardens closer to our building and, of course, the nature landscape teems with people and creatures.
Built in 2017, the Friendship Grove Nature Playscape is an alternative play space designed to provide children with direct experiences with nature while facilitating healthy outdoor play.
A natural playscape differs from a traditional playground by replacing metal and plastic play structures with features created from natural materials like tree trunks, logs and rocks. This design provides the opportunity for maximum child-led creativity, as natural objects can be used in many imaginative ways.
The natural playscape is an ever-changing space. Natural materials break down over time and need to be replaced. One of the main features of the game – a huge climbing “whale-shaped” log – was recently replaced with a huge, multi-stemmed poplar tree trunk. A second large climbing journal should be added soon.
A major addition is currently underway as construction begins on UPDAC’s new outdoor learning pavilion adjacent to the playground. The pavilion will be equipped with a restroom, water fountain, a wood-burning fireplace and a retractable covering for multi-season use. This new lodge will become the hub of nature day camp next summer, providing campers with easy access to the natural playscape.
At the end of each September, the Urbana Park District celebrates Take a Kid Outside Week by offering a variety of outdoor programs and activities. Due to the current construction of the pavilion at the Friendship Grove Nature Playscape, many of these programs will take place this year at other locations in the Urbana Park District.
Outdoor Movie Night, for example, will take place at Meadowbrook Park in the meadow behind the PrairiePlay Playground near Windsor Road.
However, there are still opportunities to enjoy the scenery of nature alone or as part of a program. Consider coming to Playscape office hours, an unstructured recreation with a staff naturalist. As nature’s bounty provides us with new materials this fall, looser natural elements will be added to the playscape for children to explore, collect, or use for creative play.
The Friendship Grove Nature Playscape is one of many public play parks in our area. Part of the beauty of using natural materials is that no two playscapes are the same. A visit to a new playscape can hit the virtual reset button on our senses of wonder and exploration. Homer Lake Forest Preserve in Homer and the Sugar Grove Nature Center near Bloomington-Normal offer other wilderness play experiences.
In September, consider taking your child outside to see what’s new at Friendship Grove Nature Playscape or your local park!
David Subers is the Public Environmental Program Coordinator for the Urbana Park District. Email him at [email protected].