Wild Space World Above Your Feet wooden structure at nature reserve

Play area gets bigger, better

Play area gets bigger, better

By Greg Seubert

MENASHA – A new addition is creating quite a buzz at Menasha’s Heckrodt Wetland Reserve.

The reserve’s Children’s Canopy Walk [renamed The Wild Space] includes the World Beneath Your Feet and the new World Above Your Feet, which opened in November 2020.

Luke Schiller is the reserve’s director of education and came up with the idea for the play area after a family trip to Central America.

“My wife and I did a canopy tour in Costa Rica about six years ago with our son and he was 2 or 3,” he said. “My wife made a comment like, ‘Heckrodt should have one of those.’ I put that in the back of my mind and as we were kicking ideas around, it was, ‘Well, why not?’

“We had this great group of volunteers and they were looking for something to do,” he said. “One of the builders just happened to work for Boldt Construction and said, ‘If you describe it, we can build it.’ From there, we created something magical.”

Visitors can access the interactive play area from a trail that starts at the reserve’s nature center. Although the nature center has been closed to the public for more than a year because of COVID-19, the Children’s Canopy Walk and three miles of trails remain open to the public.

“A lot of the major features are put in place,” Schiller said. “The hands-on interpretation will be added, so we’re still adding things. We thought the community deserved to get out and have some fun with their families. Our grand opening will be July 17.”
Kids learn through playing and exploring, according to Schiller.

“They learn through assessing risk, whether it’s jumping over a log, crawling over it or skipping over it,” he said. “They learn when their parents or grandparents are engaging with them. That’s what that wild space is about.”

The World Beneath Your Feet has been a popular activity at the reserve for about 15 years.

“We had some tunnels and some signage talking about the critters that call the world beneath your feet home,” Schiller said. “We had school groups coming out and in response to such a popular program, we decided to unleash The World Above Your Feet. Each tree house has a theme or topic. One of them talks about the owls of the canopy, one of them talks about the trees of the canopy.”

“For me, one of the neatest things to see is it’s multi-generational,” said Chris Langenfeld, the reserve’s director of development. “You can bring the entire family. There are no barriers to entry, so anybody with mobility issues can participate as well.”
Volunteers spent 1 1/2 years building the canopy walk.

“A majority of work on the reserve is led by staff and executed by volunteers,” Langenfeld said. “The staff is in there working with them side-by-side. For the Children’s Canopy Walk, we had that vision of a large group of volunteers going in like an Amish barn build and putting this thing up. Covid hit and we had on average one or two staff and maybe three to four volunteers the entire summer. The amount of work those few individuals were able to get done is just mind-boggling.”

“It’s something special and I’m so happy to be part of it,” Schiller said. “To see it start with an idea and then to pitch it to the board and have their support, to have the support from the community and then to build it, we’re just very lucky. It’s not uncommon to see the parking lot completely full on Saturdays and Sundays trying to get out there and enjoy it.”

 

Originally published in May 2021 in On the Water publication.

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