Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Naturezania Ballwin Volunteers Build Students' Brainstorm

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Naturezania Ballwin Volunteers Build Students' Brainstorm

Article excerpt

Imagine jogging on a nature trail, strolling across bridges, splashing in water, observing birds, digging for fossils, hiding in prairie grass, tiptoeing through a butterfly garden and scaling a two-story treehouse.

Schoolchildren at Oak Brook School in Ballwin did.

And soon they and members of their community will be able to do all of those things. Hundreds of volunteers began last Wednesday and have worked this weekend building the first phase of a $150,000 outdoor learning area called Naturezania. The project will include a one-mile nature trail, educational areas and play areas that will surround the school, at 242 Oak Street in the Parkway School District. School leaders have discussed the possibility of having the trail connect someday to a trail in the adjacent Castlewood State Park. On the east side of the school, students can poke their heads through oversize birdhouses and see what a bird would see. On the south side, children can climb into a prairie schooner (sort of a wooden pioneer wagon) and gaze over a prairie of tall grass and wildflowers. In an amphitheater cut into a hill next to the school's south wall, students will have a chance to watch animals and plants in a wetland area. Later phases call for a fossil study area, a butterfly garden, a native wild-edible garden, a pond, an oak savanna and a two-story treehouse. "I can't wait till they're done," third-grader Dustin Walters, 8, said recently as he watched a bulldozer and backhoe remove stumps and underbrush to make way for the birdhouse village. Several hundred feet away, a schoolmate, Matthew Zinselmeier, 10, helped his mother, Jeanne, carry wood that volunteers would rout and saw. Matthew said he postponed playing after-school hockey and football to help build the nature area for his younger sister, Malbry, 7 months. Dave Nichols, 32, an unemployed man, came to lay landscape timbers in front of Oak Brook at the request of girls and boys who live in his neighborhood nearby. He considers the children his adopted nieces and nephews. And he marvels at how families turn the arrival of the morning school bus into a neighborhood get-together. "I have never seen a community get involved with a school like it is here," Nichols said last week. …

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