By Kathy Knotts
Children have a new outdoor place to roam at Jefferson Patterson Park in St. Leonard. The museum opened its new nature play space this week, a one-of-a-kind area within the heart of the park that organizers hope will nurture children’s interests in the natural world.
Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum, a state museum of archaeology and home to the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, is a program of the Maryland Historical Trust that includes 560 acres along the Patuxent River.
The new Nature Play Space, located across from the visitor center, helps children master coordination and balance when they hop on tree stumps. A faux tree tunnel is fun for climbing or curling up in a cozy spot for quiet time. The oversized bird’s nest helps foster imagination and becomes a focal point in creative storytelling and other social activities. Three embankment slides provide the thrill of movement and speed. There’s also plenty of open space for kids to run and explore, plus naturally shaded areas with ample seating.
According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, natural play spaces offer all of the opportunities for creativity that a conventional playground can, while providing an important early connection for children with nature and encouraging future environmental stewards. Natural play spaces also support children’s physical, intellectual, and emotional development.
“We’re excited to offer this new space to our youngest visitors,” says Marieka Arskey, JPPM assistant director. “Nature play spaces like this provide a safe opportunity for Maryland’s budding naturalists to run with their imagination while encouraging their curiosity. If you’re looking for something new to do, bring your kids to introduce them to different aspects of nature, explore the variety of sensory experiences that exist in the wild, and learn to appreciate ecological diversity.”
The play space was designed by Mahan Rykiel Landscape Architects and funded through a Capital Grant award from the Department of General Services.
“I’m excited that the park is offering a space for kids to engage with natural structures so they can build confidence and interest in exploring nature more broadly,” says Nichole Doub, head conservator at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory.
While visiting the park, be sure to take advantage of the Woodland Indian Village, hiking trails, kayak launch, gift shop and more. The park and grounds are open year-round from 7:30 am until dusk, except for New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.