Nature maze project connects kids with environment


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Nature is everywhere, but Backyard Abundance founder Fred Meyer says it isn’t appreciated as much as it should be.

“One of the things that kids are struggling with today is getting outside,” he said.

The Edible Forest Maze was created in order to help kids interact with the environment.

“When we realize that we can help the environment … that’s a very empowering feeling,” he said.

He noted that with the maze, kids will be able to experience the empowering feeling.

Local volunteers shoveled mulch around the plants, which help form the maze, on Sunday afternoon.

Currently, the plants are only knee-high, and the maze isn’t clearly defined. With a couple more years of growth, Meyer said, the plants will stand high enough for kids to run in between.

The Edible Forest Maze project was started in 2011 by the Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department and Backyard Abundance — Meyer’s nonprofit environmental company.

The project is funded by a grant received in 2010 by the Parks and Recreation Department, with the goal of connecting kids to the environment.

A volunteer who was at the maze on Sunday said  it helps people of all ages appreciate the outdoors.

“People would get a better understanding if they had a chance to experience [the outdoors],” said Marshall Pope, the director of the Proteomics Facility at the University of Iowa.

Meyer said nature and the environment are keys to child development. The maze will have an important educational aspect, he said, serving as a “living classroom.”

In addition to helping kids, he said, the maze will also help adults learn about the environment.

“The real purpose of this is to connect not just kids but everyone [with the environment],” Meyer said.

Nancy Pope, who is married to Marshall Pope and is a seasonal-employee supervisor in Iowa City Parks and Recreation, said that projects such as the Edible Forest Maze are important for natural resources.

“I think we need to make good choices and protect our resources,” she said, pointing out that clean air and water were some of the resources that needed protecting.

The maze is still in development, Meyer said, but once it is complete, children will come.

“Once the maze has had a couple years of growth, it will start to look like an actual maze,” Meyer said. “That’s when I think kids will actually start getting engaged.”

Meyer said that the maze will help kids learn about different kinds of plants. Some of the plants at the maze include strawberries, peach, plum, hazelnuts, and herbs such as oregano and thyme, Meyer said.

Dan Daly, a community member and “amateur naturalist,” said the environment is very important for the development of kids.

“They’ve got to understand [the environment,]” he said. “You can get quite a lot out of a book. You can get even more out of the soil.”

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