Nature Classroom @ Towne Park

I hurt myself last week, and wasn’t quite feeling up to a hike. But I would never deprive my children of some quality outdoor exploration! So we headed to Towne Park, a St. Charles County Park in the Wentzville area.

The park is listed as in “Foristell,” so it took me a while to actually visit because in my mind, it was really far away. It really isn’t far, and it doesn’t *feel* like Foristell- it’s right off 61, about six miles north of the 40/70 intersection. My cousin recommended it to me, knowing that we would love it, and she was right! It features a playground, pavillions, several paved and natural surface trails, and a fishing pond, but its most attractive amenity in my opinion is the Nature Explore Classroom!

This is not just a few benches in the woods, which is what I always think of when I imagine an outdoor classroom. This is a Nature Explore certified classroom. Nature Explore is a national nonprofit program of Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, which works collaboratively with a network of organizations throughout the nation. Their goal is to help nature become an integral, joyful part of children’s daily learning.  Nature Explore provides research-based workshops, design consultations and resources created to support programs as they continue to connect children and families to the wonders of nature. What I love about this is that the goals of this program completely align with my family values, and the research and intention behind the design and programming totally align with the educator in me. There are not many in Missouri, and only a few in public spaces. Most are in private schools. We are lucky to have two nearby- MoBot Gardens @ Shaw Nature Reserve and Towne Park! I love having them in the public space, accessible to everybody so that all children can benefit from it.

When we first entered the area, the kids were thrilled! We hit the music section first, where there were many instruments to try out, small and large, made of natural materials.

Then my kids spent a lot of time in the construction area. The entire classroom area has gravel trails around and through it, with plentiful seating in the form of wood benches. We hung back and let the kids figure it out in the construction area. It was slightly Lord of the Flies-esque, but it was so exciting and rewarding to watch them negotiate, compromise, and help each other as they worked on building a little city, shelter, and bridge. There are logs and sticks for them to build with, as well as stools and tunnels to climb and play in.

There was a water feature area. Powered by a bike and series of chains/gears, you pump water into a gutter that flows down onto some rocks. The kids really were enthused about this, though it was tougher for the youngest ones, and for Nick who is always challenged by bikes. He was very motivated though, and I was proud watching him try and try again to pump the water! Eventually, Kareem got on the bike and Nicky got soaked, but we had a great time.

There were climbing structures, a huge tire swing, a balance area, and a sand area among other things. This kept them engaged for a very long time. We then crossed the pond via pier and went to the more traditional playground, which had something for everybody as well.

We spent a few hours here. I’ll definitely want to bring a picnic and make a day of it next time- so fun!

Hiking Pickle Springs

Last year, we went to Pickle Springs three times- once by myself and twice with the kids. This is one of my favorite trails, along with the rest of the world. However! There are still people who have not explored or discovered this trail, so I wanted to share.

Pickle Springs is a National Natural Landmark a little bit over an hour from St. Louis. It’s full of unique and impressive geological features that will amaze including waterfalls, sandstone arches, rocky glades, and box canyons. The diversity along the trail is stunning. I’d say it’s so many things I love about this part of the state in one hike.

Last year, we went in winter, spring, and fall and it was delightful every time. In the winter, we got to see the waterfalls flowing. Fall was my favorite hike though, with the kids climbing and exploring the rocks- we had a blast! It was still very hot in September, and the leaves hadn’t begun changing. So really, it felt and looked like summer. It looked like a fairy forest- green and lush and with giant rocks and waterfalls, we could play all day.

They found it very meditative and contemplative as well. 🙂

The trail is a loop about two miles long with elevation gain of a little over 300 feet. It’s well-marked in my opinion (though some online say they have gotten turned around) and there’s a map at the beginning of the loop which names some of the geologic features- the ten year old really enjoyed using the map to identify some of the features we saw along the way.

On my February trip, we saw no one else. It was also very foggy, eerie, and otherworldly. Really a special time to be there. On my solo trip in the springtime, I saw two men- military guys who were training with packs on their backs. On our late summer trip, we saw a few other families, but it wasn’t crazy. I know I have heard that it can get crowded, though. There is a fair sized gravel parking lot, and street parking sometimes has to be an option I have heard, though I’ve never experienced it at that capacity.

For us, it was great for all ages. We took four kids ages 2 to 10. It’s rated moderate, and I would agree with that rating. When it was hot, it was not the easiest hike for the kids. But we took our time and explored everything- this helps. For me, solo, I went at a good pace and it was a moderate hike for me too.

Pickle Springs is very popular for a reason- do yourself a favor and get down there if you haven’t in a while or if you haven’t ever. I’ll go with!