Gro Nature-Based Learning Program

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Provided by Prince William County

Gro is a nature-based learning program developed by the Prince William County Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department. The program helps children learn about and connect with the environment through outdoor play. Until recently, the Gro program was only available James Long Regional Park, near Haymarket. Now, there’s a new Gro facility in Locust Shade Park near Triangle.

The Gro indoor learning center, housed in a renovated storage building at the park, will serve as a teaching center for park visitors. “It’s a natural education center, principally to serve our Science in the Park youth who are coming in as part of the tour through the park,” said Brent Heavner, spokesperson with the department.

Science in the Park

Science in the Park is a partnership between Prince William County Public School System and the parks, recreation and tourism department aimed at using county parks to teach environmental science outside of the classroom.

“When the children come here, they are participating in their science classes. Teachers will coordinate with Science in the Park and then come here for their lessons that corresponds with something in the classroom,” Heavner said.

The new center, which will be open to students for planned Science in the Park events, with the occasional openings for the general public for events such as a nature day in the park, features wall murals showing how the park’s ecosystems work, signs showing the birds, mammals, reptiles, insects and fish of the park, along with exhibits and hands-on activities.

Potomac District Supervisor Maureen Caddigan, who recently attended a ribbon cutting ceremony for the center, said that “The Gro philosophy is innovative. It is an approach to natural education, and it provides children the opportunity to connect and explore and learn. I’m very happy that this is here. I can’t think of a more perfect partnership than Gro and Science in the Park in this magnificent, historic park.”

Potomac Supervisor-Elect Andrea Bailey described the center as “beautiful and nurturing and educational at the same time.”

“I am very excited about this project, and I’m very thankful that you’ve put so much time and love and consideration for our future environment,” Bailey said.

Gro at Locust Shade Park

Seth Hendler-Voss, the director of the county’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said Locust Shade Park with picnic pavilions, hiking trails, mini golf, an amphitheater, boating, fishing, playground and fitness trail has something to offer everyone. Now, with the addition of the Gro center, the experience at Locust Shade Park will be enhanced. “The thing missing from this outdoor laboratory was indoor space where visitors could interact with exhibits that prepared the senses for excursions they would take outside, to help make sense of what they’re seeing as they go into our park,” he said.

Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Brodie Freer said the learning center provides an opportunity for everyone to come and learn about nature. “I look forward to seeing the generations, from young to old, take advantage of this unique space. I anticipate the space and programming will be a launch pad in helping people get involved in parks and rec to develop future leaders. This is for all of the future arborists, botanists, zoologists, teachers and natural earth scientists.”

Janae Holloway’s children have been looking forward to the opening of the Gro center. “We enjoy coming here in the summer. My kids are so interested in all the wildlife and learning more about the environment and the ecosystem here. I’m constantly talking to them about the circle of life and how things work. It’s really nice to have a center that can highlight all of that.”

More information about Gro program can be found at pwcparks.org/gro.

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