Contact: Bonnie Strawser - 252-473-1131
June 25, 2011
Nature Play Debut on Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
From June 6 through 24, fifteen talented and creative young adults from all over the country gathered in Dare County to re-learn and/or revisit their abilities to experience the great outdoors through play. Bonnie Strawser, Refuge Coordinator for the 2011 Alligator River Nature Play Program, explained the incentive behind U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service's embracing the program, "There's been a national, even international, movement in the conservation community for a number of years to 'Connect People with Nature'. When folks my age were kids, we spent our days digging worms to go fishing, building forts in the woods, or looking under logs for roly-polies. Few children in the current generation have had those opportunities." So, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is setting out to correct that situation, beginning in eastern North Carolina. "It is our hope that this program will become a prototype and other refuges, forests, and parks will join us with promoting Nature Play," Strawser added.
The project began almost a year ago when Strawser was contacted by Alan Cooper, Education Coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation (Texas), Robin Moore, Director of the Nature Play Initiative at NC State University, and Matt Gay (US Fish and Wildlife Service Education Coordinator at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia) about being a partner in a Nature Play Project. The National Wildlife Federation came up with the idea and proposed it to the Service for a grant under the Connecting People with Nature Initiative. Gay thought it was a great idea, but told them they would need to find a Refuge partner and identify a sizeable benefit to this refuge partner as a result of the program. They chose Alligator River, and we agreed "to play!"
The benefits to the US Fish and Wildlife Service are 1) Providing training for 15 young people who are certainly prospective Fish and Wildlife Service employees of the future and 2) Producing a design for the 35-acre Gateway site that includes trails, an educational pavilion, and nature play "pods"-- all green and adventuresome in nature.
The program included developing recommendations on how to expand this pilot project to other refuges, parks and nature centers as well as designing a future installation near the Refuge Visitor Center. Interns were trained in playwork methods, engaging in teams to design, manage, and deliver nature-based play programs in three events for children and families visiting the refuge.
In all, an estimated 45 children participated in the prototype programming over the three weeks.
Gayle Grubbs, a local in-home day-care provider, brought her children to all three sessions. She said they want to come back and play at the site every time they drive by it. "They had a great time," Grubbs added. "I can't wait until a permanent Nature Play area is designated. Local children, especially day-cares and homeschoolers, will make it a part of their weekly routine. We're always looking for something fun and educational to do with the kids, and they love this type of adventure."
The project was extremely successful, and all partners agreed to follow through with marketing, sharing, and growing the idea. In two weeks, the experience here will be shared with Service employees from across the country at the National US Fish and Wildlife Vision Conference in Wisconsin. And, next week, Moore will be traveling to the United Kingdom to share this example with representatives from over thirty countries at the International Play Association Conference.
To learn more about the Alligator River Nature Play Corps, visit their blog site - http://natureplaycorps.blogspot.com/
Photographs may be viewed at http://www.flickr.com/photos/natureplaycorps/
Photo credits: Bonnie Strawser, FWS