James & Anne Robinson Nature Center
Our outdoor classroom, called Nature Place, was opened to the public in September 2015. Our goal was to create a space that encouraged curiosity about the natural world and invited even those with the most timidity about unstructured experiences in nature to feel comfortable.
We incorporated local touches, like the wood carvings created by a local chainsaw carver and the hollow logs brought here after having to be taken down at a nearby historic site. We also took advantage of the many skills and talents of our staff allowing them to share their creativity through the addition of handmade objects for the space. The themes for each activity area are based on the behaviors and habitats of local wildlife and the area is filled with native trees, shrubs and perennials.
Since opening, we’ve welcomed the addition of two fungiphones – beautifully handcrafted in Maine by artist Jim Doble, and a Mud Kitchen crafted and installed as an Eagle Scout project. As a nature center open to the public, we strive to maintain a space that functions without constant oversight, however, our staff provides ongoing maintenance and upkeep.
What’s unique about our site?
The unique skills and craftsmanship of our staff who collaborated on the creation of this outdoor classroom bring individualization to the space. The wood carvings, the hand-poured and painted concrete “tree stump,” and the hand-painted signs with novel cartoon images make this space extra special.
One of the most beloved elements is the repurposed drainage pipe that has been buried into the hillside allowing children to slide down through the hill. And children are not the only ones who enjoy this experience. The day before Nature Place was opened to the public, small paw prints were spotted inside the tunnel!
Another favorite addition to the space has been the Hugglepods. These cocoon-like hanging seats are colorful and eye-catching. They also provide little hideaway spaces, as children can climb completely inside and just hang out.
Our outdoor classroom has proven to be a popular destination for families, providing just enough guidance and invitation to outdoor exploration and play. Prior to the installation of Nature Place, our property’s outdoor amenities were limited to two outdoor patios – neither interesting nor appropriate for playful behavior – and just over one mile of wooded trails. Our most popular space was probably our indoor Discovery Room. Now, able to be seen from inside through the Discovery Room’s windows, Nature Place beckons visitors to move from inside our building and exhibits to outside, helping to further fulfill our mission of connecting people with nature.
Support and thanks:
We are grateful to Howard County Recreation and Parks Capital Planning Division, especially the construction crew who put significant time, effort and personal talent into the development of Nature Place. We are also grateful to the James & Anne Robinson Foundation for generous financial support that helped make this outdoor classroom so special.