Six months into a year-long partnership, the Chapel Hill Public Library hosted a kick-off of its new outdoor learning and play initiative “Explore More at Pritchard Park”. As one of the named partners, the UNC Institute for the Environment has been closely involved in the planning and implementation of the new site and the activities and programming associated with it.
Sarah Yelton, environmental education coordinator at the Institute’s Environmental Resource Program (ERP) and Dana Haine, K-12 science education manager also with ERP, have spent the last several months consulting with the library and other partners on the potential for extending the library’s mission to better use the natural resources and trails surrounding the library property in Pritchard Park for outdoor education and nature play.
“We connected library staff with our many collaborators in North Carolina’s environmental education community, expanding the library’s network of partners for programming and resources.” Yelton said.
Earlier in the fall, Yelton and Haine conducted focus groups with environmental educators and other community stakeholders to gain a diversity of perspectives on the types of outdoor projects that could be developed. They then used feedback and data from the focus groups to create recommendations for the library to use in prioritizing and selecting what projects to pursue and when.
“This project is a great example of how university resources can be used to the benefit of the community, enhancing the resources that are available to the town.” Yelton said. “And personally, I love this partnership because it meets one of my career-long goals to help connect people to the outdoors.”
At the kickoff, participants got to try out a new nature play space and outdoor activities, like a choose-your-own adventure, an outdoor scavenger hunt, nature crafts, bird watching and exploring the trails around the site.
Portions of the nature play space were created using a huge oak tree reclaimed from Franklin Street. Volunteers gave new life to the tree by hollowing out part of it to create a natural play structure.
Other programming focuses on environmental education and STEAM learning. Community members will soon be able to check out nature backpacks to help them explore various parts of the park, along with equipment and tools to collect data for citizen science projects. ERP staff will also offer an environmental science-focused teacher workshop in conjunction with the library this spring.
ERP was able to provide additional resources to aid with the development of the Explore More at Pritchard Park initiative this spring by placing an intern with the library through the Sustainable Triangle Field Site Program.
Other partners, like the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center have been instrumental in the project, as well as input from a variety of Chapel Hill municipal departments including parks and recreation, stormwater management and public works.