After months of construction, a new colorful, modern playground will open to children, their families and friends on Friday, Dec. 10 at LeFleur’s Bluff Education and Tourism Complex.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Thursday morning, Dec. 9.
The playground, which is the first phase of a project to enhance the complex, will feature 80 play activities, 73 of which are inclusive to children with accessibility needs. A custom We-Go-Swing will allow accessibility to children with and without wheelchairs.
The 30,000-square-foot playground is separated into different play areas based on the age of the child using it. A play structure named the Wedra is for children 6 months to 23 months old and the Hedra Tower is for children ages 5-12.
“All structures on the playground promote physical activities, from providing greater freedom to run, jump, and climb, to supporting reduced stress levels,” said Emily Hoff, executive director of the Mississippi Children’s Museum.
Shade structures cover 75 percent of the playground, which should make the area below up to 30 degrees cooler for year-round outdoor play.
Angel Rohnke, director of the LeFleur’s Bluff Complex, said it’s healthy for children to play and learn in nature. “Outdoor experiences build visual-spatial skills, strengthen observation and creativity, improve concentration and enhance motor and imagination skills,” she said.
Attendance is expected to jump after the playground opens, said Sheila B. Grogan, president of the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation.
The playground will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and on Sunday from 1-5 p.m., beginning Dec. 10. Parking will be available at LeFleur’s Bluff Park and at both the Mississippi Children’s Museum and the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. Admission to the park is free.
The playground is the first of child-friendly activities to develop the education and tourism complex, which is the shared campus between the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science and the Children’s Museum.
Spotter’s Adventure Trail, a museum walking trail, and The Den, an outdoor pavilion, are scheduled to open in early summer 2022.
The eight-foot-wide Spotter’s Adventure Trail will be located east of the playground and will lead the way to conveniently visit both museums and the playground. The trail will feature a fun and interactive outdoor experience with Spotter the Otter and friends.
The Den will be located west of the playground and will include tables and seating for up to 50 students. The Den will be used for field trips, events, and programs by both museums, including the award-winning Mississippi Science Festival. An adjacent sloped lawn will allow the structure to be used as an open-air amphitheater for large assemblies.
The foundation awarded a $3,855,000 grant to the Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks Foundation for the LeFleur’s Bluff Education and Tourism Partnership, which is the shared campus between the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks’ Mississippi Museum of Natural Science and the Mississippi Children’s Museum.
The grant is funding the playground as well as an outdoor classroom and pavilion and museum trail, and the state of Mississippi is providing infrastructure improvements.
The Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation provides targeted grants to fund initiatives and programs to improve the health and well-being of Mississippians. “Encouraging children, families and others to spend more time outside engaging in fun play activities or taking a walk develops lifelong positive attitudes about maintaining healthy lifestyles,” Grogan said.
The project at LeFleur’s Bluff is the largest outdoor activity project the foundation has funded to date.
Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi led in building a wood-structure playground that stood for years at LeFleur’s Bluff State Park.
“Construction was completed with the support of Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi employees almost 20 years ago, and the playground has been visited and enjoyed by thousands of children and their families,” Grogan said.