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Charlotte, NC-- Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department invites the public and media to the grand opening of the county’s first “nature play area” at Reedy Creek Nature Center, 2900 Rocky River Road, on Saturday, May 22, 2010 at 10am. The event is being promoted with the slogan “no child left inside."

The new play area, called Nature Explorer Zone, is a special playground designed to encourage longer and richer play experiences in a natural setting. The playground is built in the woods near the nature center and features a custom-made play structure resembling bird houses (in picture), plus many other features to capture the imagination of children--stump jumps, log balance beams, a grapevine crawl and arbors, sand play area, fort building area, “messy materials” area, and a stage for dramatic play.

Nature playgrounds are a hot new concept to encourage children to spend more time in nature. Studies find that time in nature is essential to a child’s development – intellectually, emotionally, socially, and physically. Research shows that connecting children to nature improves their creativity, strengthens problem-solving skills, and supports healthy childhood development, including positive impacts to childhood obesity, stress, and attention deficit disorders.

Nature Explorer Zone was funded by $50,000 in donations and grants from REI, Sonitrol, the Foundation for the Carolinas, and Partners for Parks. Volunteers helped design and build the play area. The playground was designed by Robin Moore of NC State University (a leading authority on the nature playground trend), the Arbor Day Foundation, plus a focus group of parents, educators, and children. Planning began in early 2009, following a “Designing Natural Play Areas” professional workshop hosted by Park and recreation. Future nature play areas are envisioned for as funding becomes available.

The grand opening ceremony will feature brief remarks by elected officials, Park and Recreation leaders and fund providers, followed by a “twine” cutting and formal opening of the area. For more information, call Reedy Creek Nature Center at 704 598-8857.