Nature Playground at the Auburn University Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve
by Jennifer Lolley

A nature playground has been constructed at the Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve in Auburn, Alabama by Auburn University students, faculty, and the Auburn community. The Turner family donated 120 acres to the university in 1993 to establish the preserve, which now hosts an outreach program of the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. The preserve contains five miles of trail, an amphitheater, a pavilion, and office space. It is open to the public all year from sunrise to sunset, with no admission charge. Various educational programs are offered including summer ecology camps.

Photo courtesy Nick Holler and Jennifer Lolley

To our knowledge, this is the first nature playground in the state of Alabama. Project initiation was by Jennifer Lolley, the administrator of the preserve, and reached completion in November 2010. A beautiful site at the preserve was chosen, with abundant trees and interesting topography left from cotton farming days. This playground is not like the treeless, conventional swing-and-slide playgrounds found in most towns. This area contains rich, naturalistic play spaces full of mounds, ditches, logs, tunnels, fallen trees, boulders, and some creative structures including a beaver lodge and eagles’ nest. This space allows children unstructured imaginative play in a “safe” environment. The rocks will be meant for climbing, the tunnels for crawling, the sand pit for digging, and the trees for climbing.

Photo courtesy Nick Holler and Jennifer Lolley

These are all the things that we enjoyed as children, but that the majority of today’s children are not experiencing. This generation of children is being labeled with “nature deficit disorder,” a term coined by Richard Louv (Louv 2008). An estimated 1% of the average child’s day in the United States is spent outdoors (Hofferth and Sandberg 1999). We, as a state and nation, need to encourage more play outside for the sake of our children’s health.

Photo courtesy Nick Holler and Jennifer Lolley

The preserve would like to help with this critical issue. We feel that the playground will attract children and families to our beautiful site, and that it will become a conduit to explore the great outdoors. We hope to be an example that will encourage other communities to design similar playgrounds. To date, our playground has been built with all donated materials and labor. Auburn University students have provided most of the volunteer labor. County and university workers have helped with big machinery needs. Area contractors donated their labor and materials to build the tree house and eagle’s nest. Auburn University Architecture and Building Science students built the beavers’ lodge. 

Nature playgrounds can be as simple or as complicated as you want them to be, but we noticed that children started playing the minute some big stumps and boulders arrived. We worked hard to go with national playground safety regulations. A six inch layer of woodchips was placed around all structures. The Forest Ecology Preserve would like to be leaders in the movement to “unplug” kids and get them outdoors for a healthier and happier lifestyle. Next time you are in Auburn, come play with us!

Hofferth, Sandra & Sandberg, John. (1999) “Changes in American children’s  time, 1981-1997.” University of Michigan Institute for Social Research
Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Paperbacks, 2008. Print.

Jennifer Lolley is the administrator for the Auburn University Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve. She can be reached at

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