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District to open nature parks on underused lands

The National Trail Parks and Recreation District will use a $16,000 grant to transform two underutilized areas into nature parks as a way to strengthen its education programming.

The district will use 75 acres of land between Rebert Pike and Mabra Park, now known as the Rebert Pike Nature Park. It will formally open on April 26.

National Trail will also turn about six acres of land and surrounding trails behind Carleton Davidson Stadium into the Buck Creek Nature Park. It is expected to open next spring.

The nature parks fill a void for the district, which offers many recreation programs, but was lacking nature facilities to offer programming, National Trail Deputy Director Brad Boyer said.

“We had some areas we weren’t utilizing to their full potential,” he said. “We came up with plans on how we could make sure, at a low cost, we could utilize these spaces.”

Most of the work on both parks will be performed with staff time and volunteer hours, Boyer said, in order to keeps costs down.

“We have no extra money to spare,” Boyer said. “In order to bring new things, we have to be creative.”

The parks will provide a destination for families to bring children to explore nature, which NTPRD Director Leann Castillo said is a big need in light of recent studies on childhood obesity and children being tied to electronics.

“Anything we can do to get them outside enjoying nature is a plus,” she said.

The Springfield Conservancy District provided the $16,000 grant. National Trail maintains the Buck Creek Corridor for the conservancy district.

The nature park will attract more people to the nearby whitewater area and will improve the ramp into the creek, conservancy district board member John Pauley said.

“Wherever we can help them with the expansion of projects and programs for the community, we try to help,” Pauley said.

The Buck Creek park will include a nature literacy trail along the tree lines surrounding the baseball stadium. The trails will circle around both sides of the stadium and will meet behind the levee in front of the creek.

The area will include a natural playground, educational amphitheatre, a whitewater area and Ohio native plant paths. The park will also be connected to the Lagonda softball fields through a wildflower walking trail, as well as paths from the nearby bike trails. Boyer said the park will be completed with materials from other parks.

The Buck Creek Nature Park already has infrastructure in place, including parking and other facilities at both the baseball stadium and the NTPRD administrative office, which will serve as the starting point for one of the trails.

National Trail is partnering with Keep Clark County Beautiful to clear trails and pick up trash before the Rebert Pike park opens next month, as well as Boy Scouts to help build foot bridges. They plan to clear the existing trails and will come back and clear new trails over the summer, Boyer said.

The Rebert Pike park will include nature education trails with foot bridges over creeks, as well as prairie land and a wetland area.

The district is creating nature signs by hand with labels and plywood to save money. The signs will include QR codes to YouTube video links to provide more information on the different animals visitors might see along the trails.

“We’re just trying to be innovative since we’re on such a tight budget,” Boyer said.

The nature parks will also provide children inside the city an opportunity to play in natural settings, like a creek or tree line, they might not have seen before.

“This will give them the opportunity to realize it’s right in their backyard,” Castillo said.

The parks will be a good addition to the community, said Springfield resident Ginger DeWitt, who took both of her children to the playground at Veterans Park during the warm weather on Friday afternoon. She said it will be a great way to get them playing outside.

“It will give kids something to do, keeps them out of trouble,” DeWitt said. “It allows kids and parents time to spend together.”

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