Karen Orlando, founder of the Blue Ridge Children’s Museum, said when COVID-19 first hit the country last year, she had to put the interior plans of the museum on hold.
“We decided to flip gears and start on the outside of the building and build a natural playground so that way, we have a home base where families can come and play and get excited about the interior again and just getting people reinvigorated about the museum,” Orlando said.
Saturday morning, Orlando and a team from the FRIENDS Humpback Rocks Chapter began working on constructing the outdoor natural playground in Waynesboro right next to Stone Soup Books.
The grand opening of the playground is scheduled for Nov. 13, where an autumn lantern walk is also scheduled.
Orlando said the goal of Saturday’s volunteer construction event was to get as many of the structures built as possible, such as a mud kitchen box where kids can explore planting, a rock labyrinth, a giant hill with a built-in slide in the middle of the playground area, a ropes course and a bamboo play space.
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Orlando, who moved to Waynesboro about five years ago, came up with the idea for the playground with inspiration from her children and her love of nature.
“When I got here and noticed that there’s not a lot for families of young children to do,” said Orlando, who also said utilized her skillset of working in special education for 20 years. “‘Cause everybody has to drive 45 minutes to get to the closest [natural playground],”
“The whole theme of the children’s museum is tying it in to what we have available to us in this community. I really wanted to help educate parents on the parkway and the national park and all of the things that we have right here in our community,” Orlando said.
Part of the interior museum is going to have an imitation Appalachian Trail going through it along with a river exhibit to connect it with the South River that runs through Waynesboro.
Meg Heubeck was a volunteer working at Saturday’s event who first heard about the children’s museum and playground after first reading about Orlando receiving the grant to begin constructing it.
“My son was much younger, and even though he probably wouldn’t benefit, I thought ‘What a great thing for Waynesboro. We need it,’” she said. “And I’ve been volunteering ever since.”
Heubeck said that if locals want to attract people, and especially families, to move to Waynesboro, there has to be things offered here that everyone can do.
Susan Zawacki was another volunteer at the event who helped build two garden beds before noon, as well as helping put together picnic tables.
“I grew up in the country with a dad who did everything around the house,” Zawacki said. “So I’m comfortable around the tools and stuff so this is perfect.”
Zawacki, who said she was on an email list for the children’s museum said she saw the email for Saturdays volunteer construction invite.
“I said, ‘I can come out and rake things and dig stuff and hammer nails’, and that’s why I’m here today,” she said. “And then later, I’m going to go square-dancing at the North Park with the Circle 8 Square Dance team.”
Zawacki also noted how it was convenient that the soccer field would be directly across the road, so if parents are watching one of their kids in a game and another wants to go to the Stone Soup Book Store or the playground, they can take that other child across the road and keep them occupied and give them options.
“I think it just brings the whole community together from a wide variety of angles,” Zawacki said