From the play equipment to the padding and plants, Mahr Park Arboretum wants to encourage kids to interact with nature.

Park Director Ashton Robinson said about 289 native plants were planted around the Nature Play Area on Monday to encourage that interaction.

“Children respond positively to flowers, butterflies, and bees,” she said. “It slows them to stop and wonder and open up a world of imagination.”

She said between the park, Jamie Jones from Natural Resource Management Solutions, Hopkins County Horticulture UK Extension Agent Erika Wood, and Alicia Boswell with Ironweed Plan Nursey, they picked 22 different native plant varieties to encourage sensory elements and wildlife food and shelter for the area.

“Many of these plants have a wide variety of fragrant smells and textures,” said Robinson. “All of the plants are excellent pollinators, and visitors will see ample bees and butterflies as they visit our Nature Play Area.”

Jamie Jones, from NRMS, said after talking with the park, they wanted to create an educational field where kids could actually touch, feel and run through.

“The species we picked would be hardy enough to withstand kids playing and getting in the middle of, plus just offer a variety of different flowers,” she said.

Some of those plants include Prairie Dropseed, an ornamental grass that forms graceful clumps and seed heads that are very fragrant in the late summer when produced. Also, Joe Pye weed, which has a cluster of pink fluffy flowers that smell like vanilla, and Purple Coneflowers, which is an excellent native plant for birds and pollinators.

Asters were planted, which offer very fragrant foliage when touched and have a beautiful blue-purple color. Pink Muhly grass offers feather pink flowers in the fall and has an airy display that encourages interaction.

Ashton said Ben Privette, the ag teacher at Hopkins County Central High School, has had his ag class and FFA students cultivate the plants to get ready to plant, and they came out to help plant them too.

“We got them when they were in the three-inch pots. They were really small,” said Privette. “We have been taking care of them for the past couple of months now.”

Although the student’s role in taking care of the plants ends officially once they are planted, he said he would not mind if the students came out to take care of the plants as a community project.

“We are always looking for ways to get out in the community and show community support,” said Privette.

Ashton said interacting with nature can bring positive benefits to the community like a diverse imagination, higher immune systems, less stress, and behavioral issues, and it promotes creative thinking and positive feelings.

“I am hoping that our Nature Play Area will inspire our community,” said Robinson. “We want children to get outside and foster a love for the outdoors, nature, and environment.”

Robinson said after the plans for the Nature Play Area started last year, she is excited to see it at this stage. The park is still waiting for the padding, turf installation, and final touches, like a cedar fence and sod before the area can be open to the public.

“After these things are complete, we will be able to open to our community,” said Robinson.

For more information, call Mahr Park Arboretum at 270-584-9017.

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