KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Just in time for summer vacation, Ijams Nature Center is opening the new Ijams Nature Playscape at Grayson Subaru Preserve.

The Ijams Nature Playscape is specifically designed for young children to play in a creek, climb hills, dig, build, crawl and engage with nature in an organic, unstructured way. The new space features a large nest, tunnels, log steps and different “rooms” to play in.

“For generations, many of us had the opportunity to roam and play in the woods, empty lots and fields that surrounded our homes and neighborhoods,” Ijams Executive Director Amber Parker said. “Today’s children don’t get the chance to play like this for a variety of reasons, so Ijams created a place to give children, parents and caregivers a safe place where that connection to nature can happen.”

Parker said research conducted over the past two decades shows how an early childhood connection to nature through unstructured play helps develop critical cognitive, social and physical skills. However, the lack of natural areas near homes, barriers preventing access to open spaces and safety concerns may prevent these experiences.

“Ijams Nature Center’s mission is to be an educational resource for everyone and eliminate barriers whenever possible,” Parker said.

Ijams Nature Center will open the new Ijams Nature Playscape at Grayson Subaru Preserve at a public ribbon-cutting event on May 9 at 10 a.m. Parking for the ribbon cutting will be at the Ijams Mead’s Quarry parking lot. The ceremony will begin at the Adventure Camp area at the far end of the parking lot. Attendees are encouraged to wear outdoor shoes and bring their children or grandchildren to try out the new free-play area.

In addition to the new Nature Playscape, Parker also spoke about the increase in visitors they have seen since the start of the pandemic. With the increase, she said it’s important to remind nature center patrons to practice the “leave no trace” motto.

“People are new to being out on the trails, a lot of folks are, and so yes, litter is a bit of a problem, we ask people to make sure you’re packing it out, we want you to practice leave no trace,” said Parker. “If you have your dogs with you, please, please bag your dog waste.”

Ijams Nature Center is a nonprofit, 318-acre educational nature center for all ages, abilities and walks of life. The Ijams grounds and trails are open every day from 8 a.m. until dusk. The Visitor Center is open daily from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. For more information, visit Ijams.org.