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Nature Play starts to take shape

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Molly Walker, 4, with her father John of Williamsport, middle, prepare to cut the ribben with Mayor Gabriel Campana, third left, to officially open the nature area at Brandon Park.

Two children jumped up and down with excitement on log stumps.

Their mother watched with care.

It was their first foray at Nature Play, a mini-park within Brandon Park, for which Mayor Gabriel J. Campana held a red ribbon cutting on Friday afternoon.

Nature Play is just what the name implies: An area in the beloved sprawling 43-acre park that invites play and learning of nature.

It consists of tree stumps, outcrops of gray stone boulders, and a site for an edible garden, said Thad Meckley, chairman of the Brandon Park and Shade Tree Commission, and a neighbor of the park.

Although chilly outside, the children and their mom were bundled up. They giggled as they leapt from one log down to the softer ground.

Campana said it will be good for the community’s children to get outside and exercise while learning how they can be connected with nature while living in a city.

More features are expected to be added in the spring, when plants and trees will bloom, Meckley said.

The site will get more benches, which are meant for anybody, especially for those seated to watch children frolic and interact with tree species and plants growing.

With the small ceremony occurring mere hours from the official start of winter and with a dusting of snow covering the park site, the city officials gathered said they wanted to have a more formal ceremony with more visitors when the plant-life is in bloom, perhaps around Arbor Day.

Dividing a section of Nature Play is a dug out swale, for rainwater infiltration and better drainage, that runs behind the bandshell, which satisfies one of the many requirements the city has to manage its drainage systems under state Department of Environmental Protection regulations, Meckley said.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” said Shawn Washington, city recreation director and director of special events.

He was hopeful word would get out so people of the city and region can enjoy seeing the trees, the growth, the rock boulders, the water feature and edible garden.

The garden could be special, he said.

It is expected to include some varieties of vegetables and fruits. Campana said maybe some blueberries or raspberries would be nice.

People can pick them, wash them off appropriately and try them, he said.

The site will be monitored routinely by Chad Eckert, the city arborist/forester, with the streets and parks department.

Cynthia Cobb, a member of the commission with Meckley, noted how many people’s ideas went into creating the site, which matches with the intention of the park’s covenant.

The parking lot is going to be expanded to include more accessible spaces, so that the community park is inclusive to all visitors, he said.

Campana noted the miniature park is part of the city masterparks plan developed years ago.

The concept was among the top requests from about 300 people taking a survey that was reviewed by the city and Lycoming County Department of Planning and Community Development, Meckley said.

Nature Play was included in the community’s desires and is among the new aspects of Brandon Park, to include the renovated tennis courts, he said.

Meckley credited Megan Lehman, former planning department employee, with pressing forward with the survey and educating the community at news conferences about the benefits of having an area doubling as educational and beneficial for stormwater management.

He also gave kudos to John Grado, retired community and economic development director and city engineer, who envisioned the progress supported by the mayor and commission, Jessie Novinger, former recreation director, and both past and present members.

The park site was paid for using a state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant and private funding sources of more than $620,000 combined, Meckley said.

Among the donors was the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania. Community development funding also was applied to the cost of renovations and the park.

Located just west or next to the children’s playground, the family’s presence was indicative of more visitations, said Campana and others gathered for a brief event.

The entrance to the park provides pedestrians easy access and avoids having to walk through grass by using the curved sidewalks and seeing in dusk or early morning with solar-powered lights.

Nature Play can be accessed from all directions, but is nearest to Packer and Parkwood streets, and the bandshell parking area.

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