The Next BIG Thing

The Nature Playscape

The next big thing at Athens’s Sandy Creek Nature Center is a major addition that will provide children an outdoor natural area for play and environmental discovery. 

With features such as trails, boulders, special plantings, a small pond and natural boundaries, the area will allow children to engage in creative play, inventing their own games, developing physical strength and learning to interact with other youngsters, said Randy Smith, facility director at the nature center.“The benefits of spending time outdoors, for both children and adults, are well documented and our goal is to provide a place where children can connect to the outdoors and improve their physical and mental health through unstructured nature play,” Smith said. 

The new area will replace a small garden behind the nature center’s main Education & Visitor Center.  Construction is set to being in Spring 2000and is expected to cost about $176,000.

The play area will honor 11 local citizens who created the nature center in 1973.  The fund-raising drive was launched with a $50,000 donation from the Owen Nelson Saveland Trust, which was established by one of the founders, the late Robert N. Saveland. A retired professor in the University of Georgia College of Education, Saveland was an ardent sailor, geographer and naturalist.  He died in 2017 at the age of 96.

The Nature Playscape will adhere to modern principles of children’s outdoor recreation that emphasize creative play designed to develop balance, coordination and cooperative problem-solving skills, Smith said.  The space will include art and music connections and a seating area for adults including shaded spots for strollers. Enclosed by natural boundaries, the area will be accessible to nearby restrooms and water fountains and the adjacent ADA boardwalk for mobility-impaired visitors.


Plans for the space were developed by Koons Environmental Design, Inc., a local firm noted for environmental planning.