Thanks to generous community support, the Winchester Learning Center Community Nature Park is now open to the public. The 3.5-acre property, at the corner of Route 10 and Lawrence Street in Winchester, New Hampshire, is owned by the Winchester Learning Center, a United Way-funded agency that provides family resources, after-school programs, preschool, and childcare for ages 6 weeks to 7 years old.
Roberta Royce, executive director of the Winchester Learning Center, has long dreamt of an outdoor space for unstructured play to benefit both the center’s children and the community. Her idea took root about four years ago, when Steve Gehlbach, a former Conservancy board president, connected Roberta with the land trust. A partnership was born.
The center already owned the land, but it lacked the skills needed to turn it into a park. At the same time, the Monadnock Conservancy was searching for ways to bring nature closer to people, especially kids, but it lacked a suitable site. Together, the two groups accomplished what neither could do alone. The Conservancy’s expertise in fundraising and trail building, paired with Roberta's vision and expertise in early childhood development, made the perfect combination.
A boardwalk, which crosses a wetland and connects the center’s play yard to the park, was built last fall by the Conservancy’s land manager, Rick Brackett, and Lew Shelley of SnowHawk LLC, a Walpole-based trail design and construction company.
The trail was built this summer by two crews from the Student Conservation Association — a national nonprofit that sends young people to improve public land and parks — under the guidance of Roberta's son-in-law, Matt Coughlan, owner of Maine-based Recon Trail Design, and in partnership with the Conservancy. The crews also installed two series of tree stumps for children to play on and smaller dirt paths branching off the main trail to further explore the woods.
The gravel section of the path is passable in a wheelchair, and future improvements will make the trail universally accessible from end to end. Right now, with a little help on and off the boardwalk, a stroller can be pushed the full distance.
The center’s teachers and kids have already been out there many times. They are eager to visit the nature park over and over again — whether running along the path, collecting seed pods, or looking for animal tracks. It’s a place that invites the freedom to explore.
Heartfelt thanks for the connections and support from four lead funders: C&S Wholesale Grocers, Mascoma Bank, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, and the Winchester Conservation Commission.
Gratitude for these key partners: ArborClimb, Recon Trail Design, SnowHawk LLC, and the Student Conservation Association.
Thank you to the many individuals in the Winchester community and beyond who made this park a success!