Bernheim opens Zone 1 of Playcosystem

By bernheim

New 10-acre adventure playground encourages free play and exploration

Bernheim Forest is excited to announce the opening of the first phase of a new 10-acre natural playground at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. Playcosystem, opening Saturday, May 22, is designed in harmony with nature to provide children with open-ended and unstructured play opportunities that support healthy development.

“At Bernheim, we believe that every child should have the opportunity to engage in free, wild and adventurous play in nature,” said Dr. Mark Wourms, Bernheim Executive Director. “With Playcosystem, we are taking another step toward making that a possibility through our play areas, our education and our collaborations.”

Playcosystem is located across from the Visitor Center and is designed to have three zones. Zone 1 has just been completed and consists of the Nature Playground with constructed areas that will meet the developmental needs of young children and offer exciting challenges for older children, such as the Pole Scramble, a network of 40-plus vertical poles, ropes and balance beams as part of a larger “hot lava” pathway that circumnavigates the entire Nature Playground.

The next two zones will be TreeCess, a park-like setting, where children will be able to engage in more adventurous play; and Adventure Forest, a five-acre forest where children will have free range to unstructured exploration play in the woods. TreeCess and Adventure Forest will be completed at a later date.

Bernheim Facilitator of Outreach Claude Stephens described the Playcosystem as “a play laboratory” that aims to inspire more natural play environments throughout the region. Stephens is also the director of the Children at Play Network (CAPN), a Bernheim initiative that educates about the importance of free play and facilitates the creation of extraordinary outdoor play environments that connect children with nature for life.

“CAPN makes connections at the community level to advocate for free play outdoors so that every child has a place in nature where they feel free, safe, healthy, empowered, and joyful,” Stephens said. “When children play in natural spaces, they engage more creatively, work cooperatively, build problem-solving skills, and learn to navigate healthy risk. Bernheim Forest has invested in CAPN for more than a decade so that we can foster these partnerships to create natural play spaces in communities far beyond Bernheim’s borders.”

CAPN has partnered with organizations such as Play Cousins Collective in Louisville and the University of Louisville to conduct research at Playcosystem that will enhance playgrounds everywhere and help children connect with nature.

“One common tenet of Bernheim and UofL’s mission is outreach and the provision of services to improve the lives of residents in area communities,” said Dr. Meg Gravil, UofL Interdisciplinary Early Childhood Educator. “Collaboration between the two organizations offers increased capacity to advance that mission with young children, families and educators.”

Thank you to the following for their generous support: Brown-Forman, Bullitt County Tourism, Elaine Musselman, The Gheens Foundation, Joan McCombs, KEEN, Old Friends of Bernheim, PNC, and UPS. To learn more about Playcosystem, and to stay up to date on our progress, visit


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