Bernheim Forest receives grant which will benefit all children through play in nature

By Amy Joseph Landon

The James Graham Brown Foundation grant will enhance the lives of children of all abilities and backgrounds

CLERMONT, Ky – Bernheim Forest is thrilled to announce it has received a major grant which will increase the opportunities for adventurous play in nature for children around the region.

Earlier this year, Bernheim’s Play and Advancement Teams submitted a grant request to the James Graham Brown Foundation for the construction of fourteen additional acres of the seventeen-acre natural playground called Playcosystem. The James Graham Brown Foundation awarded Bernheim $741,000, which will support adventure and exploration play.

The first zone of Bernheim’s natural play area – Playcosystem – was completed in 2021. Playcosystem offers children an opportunity for unstructured play in nature, which supports healthy child development, and is the result of more than 12 years of efforts by Bernheim’s Children at Play Network (CAPN). One of the most exciting new features will be the construction of a wheelchair-accessible treehouse. Taking advantage of topography and ramping, the Playcosystem treehouse gradually allows a wheelchair user to end up fifteen feet above the ground in an enchanting play structure that doubles as a transition between the adventure play zone and the forested exploration play zone. Bernheim will also make available all-terrain wheelchairs so visitors can then get further into the wooded areas.

“Imagine being in a wheelchair and discovering that you have a way to explore the upper branches of a tree,” said CAPN Director Claude Stephens. “We are building something that is intentionally more than a playground – a play laboratory to inspire more natural play environments throughout the region, as well as a space that provides a wide spectrum of play here at Bernheim for every child of every background and ability.”

According to President and CEO Mason Rummel, “the James Graham Brown Foundation has a long-standing history of supporting important Kentucky cultural assets like Bernheim Forest.  This project also connects to our educational mission and we are excited to help Bernheim cement its role as a national leader in innovation and research into the design of outdoor play spaces that support the physical, mental, social, and emotional health of children.”

This grant will allow the entire Playcosystem project to be completed in the next two years, which will include 17 acres of outdoor nature play across three distinct play zones that include nature play, adventure play, and exploration play.

“Our goal is to encourage children to explore nature in progressively deeper ways, and this Quality of Life grant will enhance the lives of tens of thousands of children each year who visit from throughout the region,” said Bernheim Executive Director Mark Wourms, Ph.D. “Bernheim’s focus on outdoor play is a natural evolution of our mission of connecting people with nature.”


 About Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest

Bernheim’s mission is to connect people with nature. Bernheim is the largest privately held contiguous forest block in the eastern United States dedicated to conservation and education. Bourbon maker Isaac Wolfe Bernheim established the arboretum and forest in 1929 as a gift to the people of Kentucky. A recent land acquisition brought the total acreage of land that Bernheim protects to 16,140. Fun, educational programs, diverse tree collections, 40 miles of hiking trails and varied landscapes are available every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. A $10 per car donation is suggested for non-members.

Bernheim is in Clermont, Ky., about 20 minutes south of the Louisville airport. From I-65 take exit 112 and follow the signs. Bernheim is a non-profit organization that relies on memberships, grants and donations for support. Come visit and enjoy the beauty of nature. For more information, please visit

About James Graham Brown Foundation

The James Graham Brown Foundation was incorporated in 1954 by James Graham Brown, a successful lumberman, horseman and entrepreneur who called Louisville home. He died in 1969 with no heirs, leaving the bulk of his estate to the foundation. Since its incorporation, the foundation has awarded nearly 3,300 grants totaling over $620 million. Each grant is made with the aim of creating a brighter future for people throughout Louisville and Kentucky, thereby elevating the Commonwealth in the eyes of the world. The foundation strives to execute Mr. Brown’s vision of Kentucky as a national leader through philanthropic investments in education and workforce readiness, community and economic prosperity, and quality of life. For more, visit


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