St. Charles County Parks and Recreation-Towne Park
The St. Charles County Parks and Recreation Department continues to provide children of all ages and abilities with a rare and educational “nature play area” at Towne Park in Wentzville. Since it was built in 2012, this one-of-a-kind Certified Nature Explore Classroom (NEC) has become a popular destination for thousands of children, families, educators, and scouting organizations across the Missouri region. This dynamic, nature-based play and learning space which supports skill development in children by reconnecting them with the outdoors, is a magical place for children to learn, discover, and explore nature. It’s open to the public every day of the year from 7 a.m. to half-hour after sunset.
Certified by the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation for the past ten years, this unique play place features the following 11 learning stations: Gathering Area, Music and Movement Area, Open Play Area, Messy Materials Area, Sand Play Area, Nature Art Area, Wildflower Area, Building Area, Balance Area, Water Area and a Re-Tire Area.
Improvements to the Certified NEC in 2020 included the construction of a new gate made out of Eastern Red Cedar that allows guests to access wild blackberry plants, prairies, and paved trails. Additional sand was added to the Sand Play Area. Ongoing repairs were made to the popular bicycle pump in the Water Play Area, as well as maintenance and repairs to many musical instruments in the Music and Movement Area. The removal of unwanted vegetation and pruning of trees also took place throughout the area.
Each area of the classroom is designed to motivate children by offering interactive elements—including musical instruments made of natural materials, climbing structures, wooden blocks, garden areas, and natural materials for building and creating art – that would give children important and inspiring nature experiences. While connecting children to nature, such unstructured play and activities are shown to enhance concentration, develop creativity and problem-solving, relieve stress, and improve skills.
In 2020, the Parks Department had a record number of guests visit during the global pandemic. Out of the 4.5 million who enjoyed the parks, 83,178 guests visited Towne Park last year and had a chance to experience the Certified NEC. This included 50 homeschooled children participating in educational outreach programs prior to the start of the pandemic. These fun, unique program experiences are designed to introduce children to the Certified Nature Explore Classroom through nature-based activities and are led by park staff and members of the Missouri Master Naturalists, Confluence Chapter. Most of the schools visit in the spring and fall during the months of April through May and in August through October and they continue to grow in popularity annually.
In addition to school group visits, hundreds of Girl Scout groups from the region use the Certified NEC to host their “Bridging” ceremonies on a regular basis. Many children’s birthday parties also are hosted in the pavilion next to the Certified NEC. This allows the partygoers easy access to this unique playground during the event. The Nature Explore Classroom is disabled accessible and is open to all who want to experience something extraordinary that reconnects them with nature.
For more information about the Certified Nature Explore Classroom or to book an educational outreach program for your school or organization, call the St. Charles County Parks and Recreation Department at 636-949-7535 or visit us online at www.stccparks.org