TODDVILLE — Tucked away in the woods near Linn County’s Wickiup Hill Learning Center, a nearly 1-acre area offers kids and their parents something less common for children today — a space for unstructured play.
Wickiup’s Wandering Woods, 10260 Morris Hills Road in Toddville, is home to numerous hands-on features to promote creativity and freethinking.
The space includes elements ranging from building materials and a water pump to a small performance stage and a zip line.
“It’s not your typical playground. It’s about free play in nature,” said Sarah Wendt, Linn County Conservation education specialist. “At school, kids aren’t allowed to pick up sticks or rocks. When you come here it’s like, please, pick up sticks, pick up rocks.”
What’s more, Wandering Woods also emphasizes the importance of conservation and nature. The space is near the Wickiup Hill Learning Center, several miles of trail and a wetland area.
“One of our goals continues to be, how can we connect the younger generation to nature and the outdoors? Folks that right now are involved in outdoor activities, chances are they were exposed to that at a young age and we don’t want to lose sight of that,” said Ryan Schlader, a spokesman for Linn County Conservation.
At 1 p.m. Friday, county officials will host a brief program to showcase the area’s features and history to celebrate Wandering Woods’ grand opening. The site had a soft opening last fall, with additional features completed this spring.
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The space will be open all year from dusk until dawn and includes many features accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Schlader said work on the Wandering Woods area began years ago with brainstorming and input-gathering sessions. Feedback also was received from children who might use the space.
“That helped design the playscape. There was a plan here but a lot of it was, ‘let’s see how the terrain fits in, how the wetland and the woodland area fits in, and what are the kids going to find more advantageous to them,’” Schlader said.
All told, Schlader said the area cost about $140,000 to build, with only about $25,000 of that coming from county funds. The remainder was raised in private and corporate donations and state and federal grants.
“That was exciting for us. There’s a lot of groups and organizations and individuals that area really happy to be a part of this project,” Schlader added.
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