Boulder Valley School District

Nature Play Area Designed for Young Children Opens in East Boulder

Nature Play Area Designed for Young Children Opens in East Boulder
Randy Barber

BOULDER– Thorne Nature Experience believes that Kids Grow Better in Nature. Unfortunately, today, US children play outside half as much as they did 20 years ago, instead spending more than fifty hours a week looking at a TV or computer screen. That is why Thorne Nature Experience partnered with Boulder Valley School District to fundraise, design, and build a nature play area for young children at BVSD’s Sombrero Marsh Environmental Education Center.

The new nature play area, designed for children ages 3-6 (but fun for all ages), includes Boulder’s largest sand play area, a mini-wetland, a climbing tree mash, and bird’s nest slide. The play area is located upon one of Boulder’s most awe-inspiring view sheds with the flatirons and front range mountains rising majestically above Sombrero Marsh, Boulder’s only natural body of water.

Young children have a very unique, hands-on, and unstructured means through which they like to experience and connect with nature. The new nature play area, allows for this type of exploration and adventure that is typically discouraged on open space land, where it is important to not leave a trace.

Keith Desrosiers, Executive Director of Thorne Nature Experience says, “Spending time outside and in nature provides innumerable health and wellness benefits to children. The new play area is designed to do a much better job than your typical plastic playground climbing structure and metal swing set at inspiring kids to break away from screens and get outside. And hopefully it will help them to build the foundation for a life-long connection to nature.”

The play area was primarily funded through a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado. In addition, GOCO funded the construction of two gazebos. Shade is a critical and often overlooked component for play areas for young children. The gazebos also provide shelter from rain and snow for BVSD students attending field trips at the site in the Spring and Fall. GOCO funding was matched with resources from BVSD’s bond program which paid to create a new parking lot for the Environmental Education Center.

The play area was designed and built by Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds, the world’s premier nature play area designer. Bienenstock emphasized the use of tree stumps and boulders to create borders for the playground. As a result, the borders themselves are play elements allowing kids to climb and balance there way through the play area. Bienenstock also extensively planted trees and shrubs within the play area, thereby creating plenty of nooks for kids to hide from a friend during a game of tag or sit for a moment to observe a bug on the ground or hawk flying overhead.

BVSD Superintendent Rob Anderson says, “The greatest benefit of this new play area is its ability to increase access to the Sombrero Marsh Environmental Education Center for Boulder area families. Prior to this project, the site was not very welcoming to the general public. The new formal parking lot, along with the nature play area and gazebos will make our Environmental Education Center an after school and weekend destination, especially for younger families.”

BVSD welcomes use of the new nature play area and gazebos which are located at 1466 N 63rd St. outside of normal school hours. Visitors are also welcome to explore adjacent City of Boulder Open Space by hiking on the City’s kid friendly trails and board walk and stopping to view birds within the City’s Sombrero Marsh bird blind. Thorne Nature Experience partners with BVSD and OSMP to provide environmental education programming on site, which includes field trips, summer camps, and family programs.

The official Grand Opening of the new nature play area is planned as part of Thorne’s annual Spring Fest event which will be held on BVSD’s In-Service day, April 22 from 10-12:00AM. The sold-out event will include environmental education programs provided by Thorne staff and a concert by Boulder based nature and science musicians Jeff and Paige.

Original Release



Thorne Nature Experience is a Colorado non-profit founded in 1954 whose mission is to build Earth stewardship by connecting youth to nature through joyful, hands-on, place-based environmental education experiences that foster an empathetic connection to nature. During the past six decades, Thorne has connected more than 325,000 children and adults to nature and become a nationally recognized leader in the field of environmental education. In 2018, Thorne was awarded the National Association for Environmental Education’s Outstanding Regional Organization Award for its best in class school year and summer programs, including its NATURE FOR ALL Initiative which helps ensure all Boulder County youth have a chance to connect with nature.

For general information, please visit and For media information including high resolution photos and logos, contact For interviews with Founder Oak Thorne, Executive Director Keith Desrosiers, or Program Director Erin Saunders, contact or (w) 303.499.3647 x105 or (c) 303.378.6549.


Boulder Valley School District, which serves 31,000 students over 500 square miles along the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, stands as a leader in academic excellence with outstanding classroom teachers, exemplary schools, and programs that support student achievement.


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