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Outdoor learning environment to be created at Ahrens Park

Qingshuo Du.

A one-acre public outdoor learning environment with animal habitats, sandboxes and waterways will be built by the Ahrens Park Foundation using $3,500 from the Grinnell College Community Mini-Grant Program. The funds were awarded in December 2021.  

“This is a continuation of creating a warm, inviting environment as you come to the park, whether it’s for athletics, for gardening, for childcare, or if it’s just to walk your worries away,” said Chad Nath, CEO of the foundation. 

Creation of the outdoor learning environment will begin after the Ahrens Park Foundation distributes a Grinnell-wide survey. Residents will be able submit their views on the project and ideas for the outdoor classrooms. The survey date is to be determined, but is expected by April.  

The outdoor learning environment will be located to the west side of the Grinnell Community Early Learning Center on Ahrens Park grounds. The Park is located is located on Pioneer St., half-a-mile east from the College.  

“We hope to have five or six outdoor learning ‘classrooms’ for live activities, digging in the soil and sand and water features,” said Nath. While most outdoor learning spaces will be available to the public, some playground environments will be designated for children and will be fenced for security. 

Nath said the outdoor learning classrooms are a continuation of the Ahrens Park Foundation’s effort to enhance the natural infrastructure in Grinnell. In 2013, the foundation created a giving garden next to the Grinnell Regional Medical Center. All produce is free and over 1,000 pounds of produce is donated annually. A giving garden is located near the proposed outdoor learning space. 

Last spring, Nath and other employees with the Ahrens Park Foundation completed a course at North Carolina State University about outdoor education. In return, the Iowa Department of Public Health granted $5,000 to the Ahrens Park Foundation for the installation of an outdoor learning environment. The Ahrens Park Foundation also received funds from the ‘5-2-1-0 Healthy Choice Count!’ grant, which was established by state governor Kim Reynolds in 2017 to promote greater physical activity levels in Iowa youth. 

Nath estimates the total cost for the outdoor learning environment as $10,000. With funds from the College and the state, the foundation has surpassed its goal. 

Before construction of the learning environments begins, the foundation will conduct a topographical survey of the land and design a preliminary plan. Nath said he hopes that the foundation can install one to two classrooms this spring, depending on the results of the community survey. The construction will progress in phases, and no end date is set. 

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Nina Baker, News Editor
Nina is a third-year Russian major with a Russian, Central European and Eurasian Studies concentration from Lakeville, Minnesota. She regrets not earning a Linguistics concentration.
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