Outdoor classroom moving forward at King Center in Charleston

Keys 4 Healthy Kids has received a $3,400 grant from the Capitol Conservation District to move forward with their work on an outdoor classroom near the Martin Luther King Junior Community Center in downtown Charleston.

Laura Dice, the project coordinator for KEYS 4 Healthy Kids, said the CCD offered them the grant to purchase pollinator plants for the green space meant to act as “living walls” to buffer the different play areas in the park. The CCD rejected an earlier application from KEYS for funding only because of the items requested by the agency; the CCD cannot fund the construction of permanent structures in the city.

According to Dice, the plants will do more than just beautify the space.

“We also chose the plants based on recommendations from the Capitol Conservation District, because they’re really interested in creating a habitat for pollinators to combat the issue of declining bee populations,” she said. “If we provide that habitat, it may help with that issue.”

KEYS has also partnered with the city of Charleston, Charleston Parks and Recreation, the Charleston Area Alliance and city council on the project. KEYS has contributed $6,500 to the outdoor classroom, and Charleston Parks and Rec will contribute in-kind labor and $3,000 in materials.

KEYS enlisted Nature Explore, a collaborative program of the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, and local landscape architectural firm Three Trees Design and Landscaping to design the project, which will be complete by summer, Dice said.

“Research has shown that these types of designs encourage more physical activity in children when compared to a traditional playground with commercial equipment,” she said. “It’s also cheaper, and it’s more of a community project, because we have so many people working together to complete it.”

John Charnock, director of Charleston Parks and Recreation, said his agency is always looking for unique projects that it hopes will be well-utilized in Charleston.

“It’s not your traditional playground; it’s more hands-on learning, so that was appealing,” he said. “Ultimately, we’re hosting it, because it’s on our property, we’ve invested in it, and we’re doing part of the labor to bring it to fruition, so we’re all-hands-in on this.”

Because of its proximity to the King Center and the YMCA, Charnock hopes that the space will be frequently used. Parks and Rec plans to partner with employees at the King Center to measure the popularity of the space after it opens.

“In the end, as a Parks and Rec person, I want people outside,” he said. “What I like about this is that it’s something unique, it’s something different, and it’s something new to this area. We’ll see what the reaction is — it’s not just swing sets and climbing equipment; it’s hands-on movement and learning, and the hope is that people will appreciate that.”

KEYS 4 Healthy Kids is a non-profit organization geared toward reducing and preventing childhood obesity in West Virginia by encouraging active lifestyles and healthy eating. For more information, visit www.keys4healthykids.com.

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com, 304-348-5189 or follow @lydianuzum on Twitter.

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