Opportunities for local youth to have fun in a natural setting is in the offing and Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission wants community input on a new "natural playground" at North Mountain Park. An informational meeting is set for next week to discuss how "nature play" could enrich the community.

Today’s children are experiencing a different kind of childhood than the days when kids had to be called in from the outdoors for dinner. According to the National Wildlife Federation, the average American child may spend as few as 30 minutes in unstructured, outdoor play each day. Research shows that childhood nature experiences can decrease obesity, improve vision, reduce attention-deficit symptoms, improve scholastic performance, reduce anxiety and encourage conservation later in life.

Nature playgrounds provide simple structures and natural materials intended to inspire imagination. Rocks, sand, hollow logs and running water encourage climbing, construction, experimentation and problem-solving. Neighborhood parks are an easily accessible option for developing nature play spaces, while educational centers, like North Mountain Park Nature Center, can design and manage such spaces for fun and safety, Ashland Parks & Recreation said in a release.

The department is seeking community input on the project to help plan for a nature play area at North Mountain Park that is safe and accessible and helps reconnect children to the natural world. The meeting is set for 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, at The Grove, 1195 East Main St., Ashland.

The meeting will be hosted by Libby VanWyhe, the Nature Center manager at North Mountain Park. There is no cost for this meeting. Children under 15 must be accompanied by an adult. Pre-register at ashland.or.us/register or call the Nature Center at 541-488-6606. For more information, email libby.vanwyhe@ashland.or.us or go to NorthMountainPark.org or AshlandParksandRec.org.