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The folks at Fredericksburg’s Parks and Recreation department invite area families to join them in a celebration and exploration of the great outdoors at Motts Run Park this Saturday. The weekend’s festivities feature an exciting two-stage event: the grand opening of The Hideout—an innovative nature play space—and the 10th  anniversary of the Motts Run Nature Center.

Motts Run Park opened 40 years ago featuring an 860-acre natural area with five miles of hiking trails and a 160-acre reservoir  offering opportunities for fishing, kayak and canoe rental, and picnicking.

Nature program coordinator Linda Bailey recognized Motts Run as the perfect site for the nature programs of Fredericksburg’s Camp Wildwood, which was launched in 1994 and, in 2004, developed the Nature Center as an entrance point to explore the park.

The creation of the Nature Center was a community effort. Nature specimens were donated from area residents, ranging from skulls and hornets nests to mounted specimens from a taxidermist and museum-quality box displays of insects—all of which resided in Bailey’s garage until the center opened. Volunteers helped construct bookshelves, a log podium and a snake cage.

In the past 10 years, the center has welcomed more than 30,000 visitors. Its most recent feature is a bird’s egg display that includes those of the world’s largest bird, the ostrich, and the smallest, the ruby-throated hummingbird, with nine others in between. A favorite attraction for young visitors is the park’s mascot—Pocket, the 17-year-old corn snake whose benign disposition beckons a hands-on experience and who has been dubbed an “ambassador for all snakes.”

“The Nature Center is not intended to replace the outdoor experience, but to spark people’s interest in getting outside and learning more,” said Bailey. “It’s about helping kids of all ages to open their eyes a bit more. This is really the first step in caring for the earth—making a connection.”

The idea for the Hideout Nature Play Space began when Bailey and her assistant Mimi Dempsey were inspired by a workshop they had attended. As they drove home, they wrote down ideas about its concept and general design. Eagle Scouts Connor Benhase and Philip Wiltenmuth took it on as a project with the Ann Page Garden Club provided funding for all the materials that would be needed.

A host of volunteers, parents and Parks and Recreation staff members also got involved.

“The project took a lot more work than we had originally thought, including digging all of those holes for fence posts and creating balancing logs and tables and chairs,” said Bailey. “It’s been exciting for the crews to see this little patch of land transformed from a scrubby patch of saplings to a unique play area.”

The Hideout will feature a sandbox where children can make mud pies  they can “cook” over a simulated campfire and 16-foot stationary canoes  they can paddle or race. They can also try their hand at setting up a pup tent, building a shelter out of sticks and branches, grinding nuts and even “skinning a deer hide.”

“The Nature Play Space is about being a free-spirited kid outdoors,” said Bailey. “I have very fond memories of building camps and forts as a child. We tried to ‘think like a kid’ when we brainstormed the elements for this space.”

What: 10th anniversary of the Motts Run Nature Center and grand opening of the Hideout Nature Play Space

Where: Motts Run Park, 6300 River Road, Fredericksburg

When: Saturday, May 10. Ribbon-cutting ceremony at 1 p.m., followed by cake-cutting and beverages

Motts Run Park is open April 1 through Oct. 31 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays). The Nature Center is open on weekends from noon–5 p.m.

Cost: Free

Info: 540/372-1086;

Collette Caprara is a local writer and artist.