Experiencing the Outdoors with Nature-Based Play

Belleville, IL | June 2015 | By National Recreation and Park Association

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On April 18, 2015 over 100 volunteers and community members flocked to Belleville, Illinois to complete construction and dedicate a new nature-based play space! The new space, made possible by a grant from the American Water Charitable Foundation and NRPA as part of their Building Better Communities program, is a 25,000 square-foot nature-themed play area within the 27-acre Bellevue Park. Belleville was one of four communities in 2014 to receive the grant to encourage the appreciation for conservation and water resources in community parks.

Bellevue Park is the oldest park in the city of Belleville, located on the city’s central west end. The park features tennis courts, a fitness trail, a music facility, playground equipment, and even serves as a popular wedding venue with its picturesque landscape. The new elements of the natural play space tie into the pre-existing 3-acre fishing lake, where the city’s summer day camp, Camp Quackers, will also use the area for play and outdoor education sessions on various topics such as water, water fowl, butterflies and insects, trees, plants, etc.

The project’s completion would not have been possible without the support from the city, its citizens, or the dozens of volunteers that assisted during the process. The dedication event drew local community members excited to use the park, as well as American Water employees, a local college football team, and AmeriCorps members that volunteered and helped to complete the final touches on the project. Volunteers worked together to landscape and plant within the natural play area and complete several beautification projects including painting fences and park structures, spreading mulch, installing signage, and more.

The natural play space will be used for a variety of city programming in an effort to connect children to nature and educate people on environmental stewardship practices. The grant funding was used for the design of the natural play area and site preparation which included the installation of a rock scramble, slide, sand play area, slab and tree benches, climbing wall, gazebo, waterfowl and fish feeders. A tree deck, log sluiceway, landscape plantings, natural screening, tree planting, seeding, signage, and a drinking fountain were also installed. The city believes that the space will open up new opportunities for the community and encourage people to get outside and get involved in their local parks and recreation. Mayor Mark Eckert said, “The nature play area at Bellevue Park will be unique within the region. It will be a destination for those seeking both active and passive recreational opportunities that are different from a typical park setting. There will be something for all ages to enjoy and this project will greatly enhance our existing park system.”