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Children’s Festival Down by the Bog returns with additional partners and activities

Basics Preschool Nature Trail TreeHug.jpg
Terri Allard
Festival attendees can look forward to participating in The Basics Preschool Nature Trail.

The 2nd annual Children’s Festival Down by the Bog takes place from 2-4 p.m. Sun., Oct. 22 at the lower section of Booker T. Washington Park. This year, the event has grown to include additional partners and sponsors.

The free, family-focused festival is the brainchild of Wildrock — a nonprofit whose mission is to promote nature play for health and happiness — and the Albemarle Garden Club. Last year’s inaugural event was created in partnership with Charlottesville Parks and Recreation and VPM to draw attention to the club’s newly refurbished 20-year-old bog / wetland garden, and to celebrate the benefits and importance of nature play.

“Children who play and have joyful experiences in nature are the most likely to protect nature throughout life,” said Meg Phillips, Wildrock executive director. “Play is critical for healthy social, physical and mental development. It acts as a buffer against toxic stress, and time spent outside reduces the likelihood of mental health challenges. Wildrock promotes nature play for both the well-being of local kids and for their enjoyment and appreciation for the world around us.”

Last year’s festival was attended by 300 visitors who enjoyed a pop-up play station, forest story time and garden tours where children could explore and look for hidden stone frogs. The event also included music and a planting station where families created and took home bouquets.

“There were so many familiar faces of kids who participate in Wildrock's outreach programs,” said Phillips. “It was amazing to have them bring their grown-ups to a convenient green space and experience such a fun event.”

Wildrock  activities
The festival features many play materials and sensory activities for children of all ages.

An additional highlight of the festival centered around The Basics — five fun and simple principles of engagement for boosting cognitive and social-emotional development of children, birth to age 5.

“Studies show that 80% of brain development occurs in the first three years of life,” said Mary Jo Grieve, VPM’s director of early childhood education. “Everyday interactions and experiences are educational learning opportunities. These five principals of engagement encourage parents and caregivers to play and interact with children, which helps them to lay the foundation for growth and learning.”

Partnering with Wildrock, VPM created The Basics Preschool Nature Trail: nature-themed signage and stations at the park where families engaged in fun activities leading to the garden. Participating families received a free Basics kit to take home and enjoy together.

The Basics pre-school nature trail
Terri Allard
Families can participate in fun Basics activities at stations along the way to the bog / wetland garden.

“Seeing the families interact with The Basics Preschool Nature Trail activities was exactly what we were hoping for with children, parents, caregivers and our volunteers all intermingling and learning about the five Basics principles,” said Grieve. “They had a blast all afternoon.”

This year’s attendees can “expect a festival vibe,” said Phillips.

Sponsored in part by Public Lands and a grant from the Garden Club of America, the 2023 event will feature music provided by Jim Gagnon, a Kona Ice stand and multiple stations throughout the lower park area where families can enjoy nature-related activities.

“Wildrock will bring several loose parts play materials and sensory activities that will appeal to all ages,” added Phillips. “We'll set up in the field and kids can run and play as they choose. We are also creating the bog scavenger hunt to encourage exploration of the Albemarle Garden Club's bog garden.”

The garden — which AGC acknowledges is technically a wetland garden — will have “knowledgeable docents available to answer any questions about the micro-climate wetland or the pollinator hotel,” said Dana Harris, AGC bog garden sub-committee co-chair.

The club will also host a flower arrangement station, reading time with books about nature and a lemonade stand.

bog garden
Victoria O. Macmillan
Albemarle Garden Club
Families can tour the garden to learn more about the micro-climate wetland and the pollinator hotel.

“The overall goals for the bog garden at Booker T. Washington Park are threefold,” said Harris. “Part is conservation — getting out invasive plants and planting native ones — as this attracts native pollinators and supports a healthy eco-system; a second part is urban park enhancement for the community to use; and the last part is developing the resources and curriculum for local schools and organizations to use the bog garden as a learning resource.”

Grieve is looking forward to hosting The Basics Preschool Nature Trail again this year.

“With the addition of some key community partners, I know this year’s attendees can expect even more learning and fun,’” said Grieve. “I can’t wait to ‘plant’ the 5 Basics messages again and watch them grow with families throughout the day.”

New event partners this year include Cultivate Charlottesville and Botanical Garden of Piedmont.

“Cultivate Charlottesville believes in access to green space — not only to grow food, but to also experience the healing qualities of time spent in nature,” said Aleen Carey, Cultivate Charlottesville co-executive director. “And we love to have fun!”

During the festival, their team will host a leaf rubbing activity and provide fresh fruit for families to taste.

“Our City Schoolyard Garden program focuses on Charlottesville City Schools students having the opportunity to engage in experiential learning,” said Carey. “Youth from kindergarten to 12thgrade can plant and harvest and grow and learn on the land. The Children's Festival at Booker T. Washington Park is another very important way to get children engaged in outdoor learning and play.”

The park is also the focus of the Power to Grown campaign — a Cultivate Charlottesville initiative and “community-focused effort to have the City set aside land at Booker T. Washington Park for an Urban Agriculture Collective (UAC) growing space,” explained Carey. “As public and subsidized neighborhoods in Charlottesville are undergoing much needed redevelopment, some of the adjacent green space where we cultivated urban farms has been lost.”

“Booker T. Washington Park has a very strong history as a hub of the African American community here in Charlottesville,” continued Carey. “The land was once part of the Rose Hill Plantation and later a dump; it was originally donated to the city to be the segregated park for Black city residents. The community worked together to make BTW a place of pride and joy for Black families in the city, and we are hoping that a UAC farm space there will be an integral part of restoring it as a key gathering space for those families again.”

Nonprofit Botanical Garden of the Piedmont — whose core values are inspiring connection, learning and joy through nature — will also provide fun, nature-themed activities.

Founded in 2008, BGP’s mission is to welcome all community members and visitors to engage in nature, to inspire learning through the beauty and importance of plants, to advance sustainability, and to promote human and environmental well-being.

“I am excited about the number of partner organizations participating in the Children's Festival this year,” said Phillips. “All of us — sponsors and nonprofits alike — believe kids should be outside and value nature. Our programs and approaches are different, which means there is something for everyone! Convening all of these organizations and influencers has the greatest impact on our community.”

Additional event information can be found on the Wildrock website.

Event parking is located at the Preston Avenue entrance to the park. Follow signs to take the walkway leading to the lower park.