Leslie Science & Nature Center receives grants to build inclusive Nature Playscape

City of Ann Arbor gives $15K for project to break ground this spring

By Meredith Bruckner - Community News Producer

Rendering of Nature Playscape design (Courtesy: LSNC)

ANN ARBOR - Earlier this month, the city of Ann Arbor awarded the Leslie Science & Nature Center a $15,000 Sustaining Ann Arbor Together grant to construct an outdoor play space that will inspire children to respect their natural surroundings and foster imaginative learning.

The inclusive Nature Playscape is in its final design and initial construction phases. Other financial contributions were made by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and Toyota Research & Development HQ.

The play space will be located behind the DTE Energy House in an accessible wooded area. According to LSNC's director of programs and operations, Karen Rendell, the center hired seasoned designer and founder of Earthplay, Rusty Keeler, to conceptualize the play space. Michigan Recreational Construction Inc. will take Keeler's concept, put it into design and build the space.

Initial design of Nature Playscape (Credit: Rusty Keeler. Courtesy: LSNC)

LSNC will host a public meeting about the project on April 30 from 6 to 8 p.m. where members of the public are invited to learn more about the project and give feedback at the DTE Energy House.

With phase one complete, phase two will continue through the summer as the center lays the base for its accessible walkway. LSNC is currently writing grants to fund phase three through summer 2020, when the play space will be installed. It is set to hold its grand opening in fall 2020.

"This project has evolved from the initial installation of playscape over 10 years ago by a local eagle scout, through the past two years with community interest and support, with additional eagle scouts and volunteers working to clear a bigger section of land and install the play features already in place," said LSNC executive director Susan Westhoff in a statement.

The Nature Playscape will be located in the area circled in red behind the Nature House. (Courtesy: LSNC)

According to Westhoff, LSNC's vision is to:

  • Create a nature playscape to inspire children in pre-K through elementary school to explore, play, understand and care about the environment.
  • Build upon our vision to be a community resource for the environment and natural sciences, as well as respond to a request from our community for a nature play area. Also to not compete with other facilities in the area but to be complimentary and uniquely different.
  • Formulate a thoughtful inclusive year-round design, encouraging participation throughout the seasons.
  • Create an intentional area where children can play and learn by engaging with and manipulating natural materials and elements, through sensory and fine and gross motor experiences.

"The LSNC Nature Playscape is a great fit for the SA2T grant program because of its inclusive design as well as its intent to inspire kids to respect nature and ultimately think about ways we should be protecting it," city of Ann Arbor Sustainability and Innovations Manager Missy Stults said in a statement. "I can't wait to see the final product and bring my daughter to play there."

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