Natural playground, splash pad construction underway in Clay County

Major project developments are underway at the incoming natural playground and splash pad sites in downtown Clay, West Virginia! Designed and custom-developed by Be Healthy partner, Peter Butler, professor of Landscape Architecture at West Virginia University, the natural playground will create a safe, accessible space for members of the Clay community to enjoy. 

Since we began this cycle of CDC High Obesity Program (HOP) funding for McDowell and Clay Counties in 2019, Be Healthy has supported various projects dedicated to increasing access to healthy foods and physical activity across some of our state’s most rural communities. 

In Clay County alone, we have supported a variety of physical-activity-oriented projects, such as walking trails, indoor recreational facilities, as well as the ongoing natural playground and splash pad developments.

Some of our 2023 project partners are multi-year partners who have received funding to help cover costs of new additions or expansions. One of those projects was the Clay Family Resource Network’s splash pad project, which encountered delays in material availability as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Last year, we also announced the addition of our new project partner, The Town of Clay, who is working to revitalize an empty lot on Main Street. They have received Be Healthy funding to support the development of their new natural playground. 

See The Town of Clay’s project design here.

Earlier this month, WVU Extension faculty and Be Healthy team members, Ami Cook and Mike Shamblin, began working with local project partners and volunteers to assemble a retaining wall for the natural playground’s newly-installed rock climbing wall. 

Felicia Woods, Daniel Coleman, Angela Brown, and Melanie Sangle volunteered to assist in the wall’s assembly, while two more volunteers, Shane and Elijah Morton, generously donated their time and skills to help excavate the playground.

Natural playgrounds are designed with sustainability in mind as they integrate existing elements, such as trees, flowers, grass, and soil into a recreational area’s space. This inclusion encourages children to explore and get more comfortable with their environment. 

Designed by Peter Butler, the customized playground design will feature multiple obstacles, including the climbing wall, a slide built along the embankment, an above-ground tunnel decorated with natural flora, and other exciting elements. 

Butler is a long-time partner and friend of the Be Healthy team. His work — as well as his students’ — has been featured in other projects and developments across Clay and McDowell Counties. We’re thrilled to see this community-developed plan come to life!

In addition to the natural playground, The Town of Clay also plans to add more amenities to the space, including park benches, a pergola, a walking trail, an open-air structure for hosting markets, a parking lot, and refreshed river access portal. 

Both the natural playground and the splash pad will be included within the new community hub. Once completed, the space will be a community hub that’s inviting for all residents! 

Over the next month, project leaders and the Be Healthy team will focus on completing the natural playground. Installation of the Clay Family Resource Network’s splash pad, which will also include a slide and other obstacles, is expected to begin in the summer.

Be sure to keep an eye on our Facebook page and website for the latest updates!