Park Authority’s ‘Wonder Wagon’ mobile centers will bring nature to people

The Fairfax County Park Authority wants to expand access to nature with planned mobile centers (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

In the future, Fairfax County residents won’t need to trek to a park to experience nature.

Instead, the park will find them with the Wonder Wagon Mobile Nature Center, a Fairfax County Park Authority initiative that will bring educational programs on nature and the environment to underserved communities and Title I schools with limited access to green spaces.

“Mobile nature centers will allow greater opportunity for communities to come to know the Park Authority and the cultural and natural resources around them,” FCPA public information officer Benjamin Boxer said. “…The concept is to activate the nature that is all around us for those who may not have the means for easy access to one of the Park Authority’s facilities.”

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved an initial $114,640 for the mobile nature center with its adoption of the fiscal year 2024 budget on May 9. However, that funding falls short of the $229,279 that the park authority requested to cover two merit staff positions and operating costs for a full year.

In addition, the FCPA estimates that it needs approximately $200,000 to acquire electric or hybrid vans to transport the center.

The county hopes to fill those gaps with the help of the Fairfax County Park Foundation, the nonprofit that obtains private donations, grants and partnerships to supplement the park authority’s public funding.

Earlier this month, the foundation was awarded a $34,000 grant for the mobile nature center from the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia’s Environment Fund, which launched in 2018 with its first grant going to the Fairfax County Public Schools Get2Green initiative.

Boxer called the grant “a significant step” in the foundation’s fundraising effort.

“The Fairfax County Park Foundation is grateful for the generous…grant from CFNOVA,” Bobbi Longworth, the foundation’s executive director, said. “The grant will help fund the Wonder Wagon Mobile Nature Center that will teach children in Title 1 elementary schools and underserved areas about the environment and the importance of stewardship of nature and parks. By bringing environmental education to them, it will increase the children’s connectedness to nature where they live.”

According to the FCPA, the mobile centers will be filled with supplies for “a variety of interactive field trip experiences,” from science experiments to live insects and other creatures.

The exact programming remains to be determined, as the park authority plans to host some community engagement events starting this summer to gather ideas from the public.

“Test programs may begin in the fall,” Boxer said.

Read more on FFXnow…

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