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    On the edge of the urban forest at the Louisville Nature Center is the latest addition to the 41-acre Beargrass Creek nature preserve in Poplar Level: a natural playground, with tree stumps, branches, rocks and a few materials found on the property. Education coordinator Tank Percentie says they built the playground to hedge against the growing amount of screen time, childhood obesity and sensory issues children face today. “Outdoor play is a way to combat those things,” she says. “There’s a ton of research showing the benefits of spending time outdoors.”

    While there are many playgrounds throughout Louisville, Percentie says there aren’t many made from nature. The music area includes a drum set made from hefty stumps secured by screws. Lengths of pipe hang from a wire strung between two pieces of lumber. With a spare stick from the ground, kids can play them like chimes. A box of pea gravel filled with plastic beach toys emulates a sandbox. A tepee made from long branches sewn together with wire encourages fort building. And a layer of smooth stones mosaicked together resembles a doormat at the front of the tepee. Percentie says that manufactured playgrounds tell children how to play. A slide is meant for sliding, and a swing is meant for swinging. Natural play spaces, on the other hand, “encourage imaginative play, creativity and curiosity.”

    The playground is the result of a capstone project Percentie and Male High School teacher Angela Page worked on through the University of Kentucky master naturalist certification program. The project started in the fall of last year with the help of students in Page’s advanced ecology class. Along with Louisville Nature Center volunteers, they put in almost 2,000 hours of classroom time and research, removing invasive species, mulching and building each station. There are already plans to add to the playground. “The space will grow,” she says.

    This originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline “Just Playing.” To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photos by Joon Kim, studiojoon.com

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    About Katie Molck

    Loretta Lynn is the best country music singer of all time and if you don't like pickled foods, you can leave.

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