Bringing Nature Play to West Baltimore

As part of our growing portfolio of urban conservation projects in Baltimore City, the Mid-Atlantic team has transformed a large vacant lot into a free, immersive nature play space for kids and their families in partnership  with local organizations, including the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation, University of Maryland Medical Center and Chesapeake Bay Trust. Beginning in 2016, the community and our partners have worked diligently over the past three years to turn this dream into a reality for the neighborhood and wildlife. This August, the space was officially opened to the public during a grand opening with neighborhood residents, project partners, and local officials, including Congressman Elijah Cummings, who lives in the community. 

This new green space transports visitors  into an outdoor haven for kids and wildlife. Upon entry, the first feature to draw you in is the color: A beautiful garden of vibrant native pollinator plants, purple jumping logs, and two dazzling wall-sized murals line the entrance to the neighborhood park. Beyond this colorful entrance, community members will find a stone labyrinth, a wooden bridge, a functional rain garden, and a wooden teepee. Whether they jump across the logs, have a picnic in the teepee, or keep track of the local pollinators stopping by, community youth will have limitless opportunities to use their imaginations and their minds as they connect with this highly-unique urban playspace.

Photo: Justin Shapiro / NWF

Aesthetics aside, this site provides crucial wildlife habitat and storm water benefits in a neighborhood composed almost exclusively of impervious, concrete surfaces. Boasting hundreds of native plants, the pollinator and rain gardens have already demonstrated positive drainage benefits during an unusually stormy June and July. We plan to install educational signage to share these additional benefits of urban green spaces to future visitors.

It truly does take a village ー or a neighborhood ー to produce a wonderful result such as this play space. This project could not have been possible without an unwavering commitment from our landscape architect, International Landscape & Design, partners from University of Maryland Medical Center, funders from Baltimore City’s Office of Sustainability, United States Environmental Protection Agency Region 3, Chesapeake Bay Program, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and of course, an engaged Druid Heights community. From the inception, neighborhood residents have served as stewards of this lot: cleaning up trash, assisting with plantings, and in some cases, even joining the contracting team with construction tasks. A sense of hope could be felt at last month’s grand opening, as conservationists and community advocates gathered to celebrate this neighborhood’s new gathering space.

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