Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Nature-based initiative extends far beyond Castle Park

  • Discovery grant involves many partners, six different sites.

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  •     The effort to make Castle Park in Sampson's Addition a nature-based park through Discovery Grant funding gained momentum from discussions at the "Connecting Children and Nature" conference earlier this fall at the University of Minnesota, Crookston.
        Sarah Reese, Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) coordinator with Polk County Public Health, said Dave Bennett is a key player as well because he previously established a natural play space at Rydell National Wildlife Refuge, and his experiences with that initiative have spurred numerous conversations about its positive impact.
        "At the Children and Nature Conference in September we had a more in-depth conversation between Dave Bennett, Rydell, some staff at Rydell and myself about what this might like look like in other communities," Reese explained in an email. "From there we began connecting the dots, and several local andregional groups were interested in participating."
        That spurred another meeting in mid-November, and Reese and Bennett, together with Linda Kingery of the Northwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership got started on the Discovery Grant application.
        Here's a summary of the project, provided by Reese:
         "The Rydell NWR is partnering with the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) Northwest Minnesota Cluster, the University of Minnesota and six communities in northwestern Minnesota to design and implement natural play areas (Discovery Areas).  This project continues the work emerging from a very successful “Connecting Children and Nature Conference” held on Sept 29, 2010 at the University of Minnesota Crookston funded by the 2010 Challenge grant to Rydell NWR.
         "This rich partnership leverages the priority of the NW SHIP region, namely to create more active communities by increasing physical activity through getting children, families and other residents outdoors. These unstructured play spaces will provide safe and convenient opportunities to be active, explore and expand their innate desire to learn based on the unique characteristics of the natural environment. We know that children who are active outdoors are happier, smarter and healthier.  In addition to the physical health benefits, children benefit from time in nature in many ways.
         "Communities will become part of the design team in a process facilitated by the Design for Community Resilience program at the College of Design’s Center for Sustainable Building Research (CSBR), University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.  Researcher Virajita Singh, with input from other CSBR researchers and assisted by a College of Design Landscape Architecture graduate student, will lead the design and community input process.  She’ll  collaborate with Eric Castle, assistant professor of Horticulture and Landscape Design at UMC, who will advise undergraduates from UMC as they work with the communities in site assessment, setting priorities for natural play area,  developing renderings for the space, and assist with the installation of the play areas.  This process of engaging the community in the design phase will create the opportunity for community buy-in and ensure successful implementation.
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         "This project will lead to cross-sector collaboration involving early childhood initiatives, park and recreation departments, public health, childcare reference and referral. The emerging movement to connect children and nature in northwestern Minnesota leverages U of M faculty and student participation and local leadership to create connections.   Connecting children and nature is a unifying and compelling vision that invites in a variety of enthusiastic partners, as the table of partners and their contributions indicates.
         "Each of the six projects will be designed to highlight the natural features of the site.  In northwestern Minnesota, these sites will represent the Red River Prairie, the Aspen Parkland and the Hardwood Hills eco-region subsections.  Students and community members involved in the process will gain an appreciation for the varied landscapes in this region. Crookston: The intention is to have two sites developed.  One site is on the U of M Crookston campus and the other at Castle Park.  Partners include the University of MN, Natural Resources and Early Childhood clubs of the U of M Crookston, Crookston Park and Recreation Department, Early Childhood Initiative, ECFE, Tri-Valley Childcare Resource and Referral and Polk County Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP).”