Students install natural playscape at Lake Red Rock

In an effort to provide a safer, educational and sustainable alternative to traditional playgrounds, Central College, in collaboration with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Red Rock Lake Association, is building a natural playscape at Lake Red Rock.

Last year, in conjunction with a junior seminar project, the Central environmental studies program proposed the natural playscape—a playground that uses natural features shaped from or mimicking the environment to create interactive facilities for children to play.

A $30,000 grant from 3M in Knoxville, awarded to the Red Rock Lake Association, will significantly improve and help maintain the innovative playscape. Research shows that children will stay active twice as long at a natural playscape than a traditional playground.

“Natural playscapes keep kids more engaged and creative—they keep them connected with nature and also they tend to be less injurious to children,” says Anya Butt, associate professor of biology and faculty supervisor of the project. “It turns out that if you have a large slide and a kid falls from there, that’s a greater height than what we built. In nature, children are basically falling onto moss from a log that is three feet high.”

The project is located at the North Overlook Beach at Lake Red Rock. The playscape will feature “play pods” with a water fountain, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) equipment, geocaching opportunities and a prairie restoration project which will be turned into a prairie maze. In honor of its 65th anniversary, Vermeer Corporation had nearly 100 employee volunteers help complete one phase of the project in October which included mulching trails and building an amphitheater. Construction on other play pods will continue in the spring semester.

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