- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Sitting on the slanted tail of a fish structure at the Nay Aug Avenue Natural Play Area in Scranton, big sister Ella Cohen urged her younger brother to slide down into the soft mulch below.

“I can’t, I’m scared!” Matthew Cohen, 6, squealed.

“Then I’ll do it!” 8-year-old Ella responded.

Coaxing kids to play creatively outside was a big motivator to construct the park, said Natalie Gelb, executive director of the Lackawanna Heritage Valley, at its official opening Monday.

The first natural play area in Pennsylvania is built almost entirely of materials found in nature, such as wood, straw and clay. The slide, one of few exceptions, is made from recycled plastic.

Mimicking an aquatic ecosystem with a turtle, lily pad stage and beaver dam, the play area sits next to the levee and the bank of the Lackawanna River. The Lackawanna Valley Heritage Trail, whose parent organization led the construction effort, snakes past as well.

The molding of the park, which began in the spring and should be finished next month, was funded with many grants, including $150,00 from the American Water Charitable Foundation, $100,000 from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, $50,000 from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation specifically to make some parts wheelchair accessible, and $25,000 from Fidelity Bank.

Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright; state Sen. John Blake, D-22, Archbald; Marty Flynn, D-113, Scranton; and Lackawanna County Commissioner Jim Wansacz all spoke at the opening, thanking and congratulating the public-private partnership for their cooperative creation.

Unlike most parks, which use ready-to-build plans, the structures at the Nay Aug Avenue Natural Area had to be designed and put together from scratch, said Owen Worozbyt, the trail manager of the Lackawanna Heritage Valley and one of the many volunteers who helped bring it to life.

Contact the writer:

[email protected], @pcameronTT on Twitter

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(c)2015 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.)

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