The Rockfish Valley Foundation (RVF) is seeking funds for a proposed Children’s Nature Trail at Spruce Creek Park in Nellysford. This project is part of an ongoing process of enhancing the dissemination of environmental education in accordance with our foundation’s mission. The self-guided trail will be constructed with the intent of informing children about the interconnectedness of the living and non-living components of the natural world through interpretive signage and interactive stations. To ensure general comprehension, the broad range of ecological concepts represented have been limited to rocks, water, plants, and animals. We believe this unique trail will serve the community by providing an entertaining outdoor learning experience for the youth of Nelson County and all those who visit.
Starting near the Spruce Creek Bridge and the day use picnic area, this trail will cover a distance of approximately 450 feet along level terrain adjacent to Spruce Creek (Fig. 1). Visitors will travel in a designated direction around the trail allowing each trail element to build on the next. This design allows for a minimal impact on the environment by using the existing tree line along the edge of the field as a guide for the trail. No large trees will have to be removed to implement this plan.
Example interpretive sign design by EnviroSIGNS recently installed at Rockfish Gap, Afton, VA.
This trail will require at least five interpretive signs (Fig. 2) to provide instructions and convey the overarching theme. The trailhead sign will orient the visitor by presenting vital trail information (map, contacts, and safety precautions) and by explaining the purpose of the Rockfish Valley Foundation in the context of the central thematic idea. The content of the other four signs will be elaborated on in the next section. The estimated cost for each sign and with aluminum posts from EnviroSIGNS is $800.
Each interpretive sign shall be accompanied by at least one interactive station: an area where a tactile experience is used to reinforce the environmental message. The message of the entire trail rests on the idea that the elements of nature are related through interconnected resources and processes. The five trail stations are briefly explained below:
Trailhead Sign: A trail brochure will be available to guide and inform visitors. This take-home item will serve to continually connect the visitor to the trail and its resources even after they leave Spruce Creek Park.
Water Station: Water is a powerful resource that can create and destroy landscapes (sedimentary rock formation and erosion). With steps down the gravel shore of Spruce Creek, visitors can compare the minuscule flow of the creek relative to that of the James River. A hand water pump and transparent trough will be installed to allow visitors to see erosion in action by placing stones and sediment in and washing them away.
Rock Station: Rocks are important in the creation of soil (source of nutrients), the understanding natural history through fossils (source of knowledge), and the construction of buildings (source of material). This station will include the visual representations of the rock cycle as well as various samples of rocks from the Rockfish Valley.
Example of a single element from the wooden play area in the Kids Discovery Area at James River State Park, Gladstone, VA.
Plant Station: Plants, while diverse in form, function, and distribution, are a crucial natural resource for humans and other animals. This station will provide lessons in tree identification through small name placards. Wooden play structures (Fig. 3) will be constructed by local builders. An electric water pump is needed to fix an existing faucet to water a controlled garden made of local herbaceous plants.
Animal Station: Animals, while also diverse in form, function, and distribution, rely completely on plants, other animals, and water for survival. This station will introduce wildlife observation techniques through the use of a track pit and wildlife camera. Bird houses and feeders are needed to bring wildlife in for a closer look.
The ultimate take away from this trail will be that rocks influence the creation of plants which influence the creation of animals all of which are influenced at some time by water. By showing these relationships, we are looking to elicit a ‘call to action’ from visitors to be more conscious about their surroundings and their consumption of natural resources. Even though some of these concepts appear relatively complicated, we are assuming that while on the trail all children will be guided by a parent, relative, or teacher to explain content and eliminate any confusion that may arise. If fully implemented, the Spruce Creek Children’s Nature Trail will become an important asset for the community of Nelson County and the Rockfish Valley Foundation by providing an easily accessible source of inactive outdoor environmental education.