The short loop around the outer edge of the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre’s property will transform into a nature play trail this year.
Mown throughout the warmer months, the trail is already utilized by visitors during some Wetlands Centre activities. Now, said director Alicia Mullarkey, it will be resurfaced with crushed limestone, and several activity stations and natural features will be installed along the way. Mullarkey said the project has been on the Wetlands Centre board’s agenda for quite awhile. The goal, she noted, is to attract more people to “play and stay.”
“We want to add features along the trail to get families out here, to have them explore more and spend more time,” she explained. “I think this will be a nice addition to what we have here with the wetland.”
Among the different activity stations will be a loose parts table, which Mullarkey said will give kids the opportunity to build things using natural materials like wood and rocks. “They’ll be cut at different angles,” she detailed, “and there will be some bigger branches for fort building.”
Other areas will include stepping stones, balance beam logs and other wood-related activities, as well as willow huts/wildlife blinds. “We’re trying to focus on features with natural materials that encourage outdoor play,” Mullarkey shared. “It’s limitless, as far as what you can do and discover.”
Tying into the area’s history, Mullarkey said they’re hoping to construct a swinging bridge similar to the one that once connected the Marquette bench to the rail yard. It will, of course, be on a smaller scale, she added.
Mullarkey said she’d also love to incorporate the artesian well/stream that feeds into the DNR’s wetland, by offering an activity that allows kids to manipulate water.
One significant natural feature will be a pollinator garden located in front of the Wetlands Centre. Mullarkey has been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as the horticulture class at MFL MarMac High School, to select and grow prairie plantings for the space.
Trails will weave through the garden, offering visitors the chance to explore not only the plants, but the insects and other creatures that will visit them. People can also learn more about plants that might attract pollinators to their own gardens, Mullarkey noted.
Other pollinator-friendly mixes of flowers and grasses will be planted along the nature play trail. Informational kiosks with benches will dot the route, as well, offering a shaded respite from the summer sun.
Mullarkey said all of the features will be especially fun and educational for kids. “The more you can do to encourage natural-based play, the better,” she remarked. “None of it’s very high-tech, but that’s the benefit of it.”
Others might shy away from using logs because they rot, she continued, “but here, we’re interested in that component. It opens a whole new world to kids.”
Mullarkey invites anyone with natural materials—especially a large, hollow log—that might be a good feature along the trail to contact her.
All of these updates will largely be made thanks to an $11,000 grant from the Wellmark Foundation. The non-profit Friends of the Marquette Driftless Area wrote the grant application and contributed matching funds. They’ll also provide volunteer labor.
Mullarkey hopes the trail can be surfaced in May, then additional work days can be planned in May and June. The goal is to have everything completed later this year. “Anyone who’s interested in helping out is welcome,” she said. “I’m excited to get started.”
By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times, 4/17/18.