Is the Discovery Zone "just for kids?"
The Discovery Zone appeals to all ages and interests. The easy-to-walk, well-marked trails are great for exercising, dog walking, or enjoying a leisurely stroll in the great outdoors! Stop by for a picnic lunch or spend a few meditative moments in the butterfly garden adjacent to the parking area. Or travel north to the Hay Field on a sunny day with your sketchbook for expansive views of the distant landscape.
What makes the Discovery Zone unique?
The interactive Scavenger Hunt (complete with scorecards!) is like an 'I-Spy' game for the outdoors that comes alive to heighten children's awareness and observational skills while having fun. Kids search for frogs and salamanders in vernal pools, charcoal bits and arrowheads in Colonial quarries and Native American sites, look for mammal tracks in a sandpit, and explore "life in a rotten log."
The Webb Mountain Discovery Zone is a 171-acre tract of land purchased by the town of Monroe for open space in 2004 for $5.25 million, including a $950,000 open space grant received from CT DEP, which represented approximately 20% of all grants designated for open space purchases by CT DEP for 2004. Oversight of the area was assigned to the Monroe Conservation Commission whose first initiative was to conduct a comprehensive review of the property by the King’s Mark Resource Conservation & Development Area (part of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service). The King’s Mark review identified significant opportunities to leverage the land’s unique biodiversity for educational purposes at several grade levels.
With this information, the Conservation Commission worked closely with Mr. Gruner, Diane Joy, Assistant Director of Parks, CT DEP, and Monroe Schools Science Coordinator Bonnie Maur, to pilot an outdoor education program that utilizes the natural resources found on the site and conforming to the State of Connecticut’s science curriculum standards. A successful field test of two fourth grade classes was conducted in May of 2007 by Mr. Gruner and his staff.
After $35,000 was raised from private donations under the auspices of the Monroe Conservation Commission, the Webb Mountain Discovery Zone was officially opened to the public in October, 2007. The funding was used to develop a comprehensive interpretive trail system with interpretive signs and a self-directed scavenger hunt, created by Mr. Gruner, centered on the theme of “How People and Animals Have Used the Land - Past and Present,” using the highest quality signage and eco-friendly materials. Twenty-eight learning stations covering subjects such as rocks and minerals, plants and wildlife, ecology, biology, and Native American and Colonial history were identified and developed by Mr. Gruner and Nick Bellantoni, CT State Archeologist. The construct of the park, including installing all signs and benches and creating a comprehensive trail system spanning over 4 miles, was completed almost exclusively by volunteers.
The park has been featured in the Connecticut Post, the Hartford Courant and Parent Magazine. Through word of mouth, the Webb Mountain Discovery Zone has already attracted schools and groups seeking programs from as far south as New Canaan and as far north as New Fairfield Connecticut.
Vision and Strategic Plan:
Based on the opportunities identified by the King’s Mark review and Southwest Conservation study, a vision emerged to establish Webb Mountain Discovery Zone as a resource for outdoor education and prototype for the Federal NCLI initiative on a local, regional and statewide basis.
This growing movement believes that the long-term secular decline in children interacting outdoors with nature (“Nature Deficit Disorder”) may contribute to growing numbers of children experiencing obesity, attention deficit and depression. In part this is a function of the increased proliferation of external, artificial stimuli such as computers, video games, television, etc. In addition, many outdoor venues have failed to adapt accordingly to this new reality and respond with more thoughtful, creative venues to capture the interest of today’s children at an early age.
Toward this end, the family scavenger hunt and interpretive sign system installed throughout the Webb Mountain Discovery Zone were designed with the intent to attract children outdoors at an early age to increase awareness skills when in a natural environment in a fun, hands-on and interactive manner. Embedded just beneath the surface are significant learning opportunities that in turn help to build familiarity with concepts children will be learning in school throughout their education – a theme informally coined “From Diapers to Diplomas”.
In this context, the two park entities complement each other by offering students a distinct advantage as they progress through their formal education process. For example, Webb Mountain Discovery Zone is an ideal venue for elementary through middle school curricula focused on subjects such as Metamorphosis and Rocks and Minerals, while more advanced studies in Forestation and Land Management can be conducted in either park venue for upper grades. The active vernal pools found in the Webb Mountain Discovery Zone provide an ideal field-based lab setting for more sophisticated secondary school curricula in Biology, Chemistry and Ecology. Further, the potential exists for offering in-depth science camps where students pursuing credits in relevant subjects can study at the Discovery Zone while camping at Webb Mountain Park.
In support of this vision, the goal of the strategic plan is to determine how to best provide outdoor education classes and programs for grades 1-12 for the Monroe and other regional school systems in which the parks’ natural resources can be linked to curricula and used to stimulate and advance students’ understanding of the subject matter and inspire them for future studies in the areas of science, history, the environment and the arts.