The tornadoes on Memorial Day, 2019, left a swath of damage across the Miami Valley, and the Trotwood community was hit especially hard. But from that destruction has come something positive - a delightful outdoor play area at the new Trotwood Branch of the Dayton Metro Library. All of the play structures were constructed from trees downed by the tornadoes, and friendly animal sculptures carved from local wood welcome children to the area.
“What a beautiful way to turn a community tragedy like the tornadoes into something filled with hope and cheer,” said Caitlin Wissler, Manager of the Trotwood Branch Library.
Chainsaw sculptor Nick Smith built the play structures. He and his wife, artist Amanda Smith, created the animal sculptures - bears, a turtle, a rabbit, owl, cat and bookworm on a stack of books.
“We’ve been so excited about this project since we started on it last year, and it’s been wonderful to see it all come together,” said Nick. “I’ve worked as a Certified Arborist for 15 years so I was able to salvage storm-damaged wood for the play area. All of the play pieces are made from that wood. The sculptures are carved by chainsaw using upcycled wood from local trees as well.”
Jayne Klose, Dayton Metro Library Community Engagement Manager, said the idea for creating the play structures came from Leave No Child Inside: Miami Valley Collaborative. The original plan was to have the play structures only. Learning about Nick’s chainsaw carving skills was a bonus that led to including the animals. The Mark A. Kreusch Memorial Fund (a component fund of The Dayton Foundation) generously provided funding for the project.
“The animal carvings really activate the Nature Play Area,” Klose said. “They add whimsy and reinforce our strategic goal of encouraging children to play and learn.”
Kathleen Moore, Dayton Metro Library’s Early Literacy Specialist, knows the importance of outdoor play for young children.
“Children are naturally curious about the world around them,” Moore said. “They want to know what things are, where they come from, and how they work. Playing in nature builds on that curiosity with unstructured possibilities. It grows imagination, encourages creativity and instills a love of nature.”
Studies have shown that the benefits of outdoor play are many - especially as a counterpoint to the abundance of indoor screen time children have today. The website Parents With Confidence cites “40 Astounding Benefits of Outdoor Nature Play for Kids,” including physical, emotional and social benefits that range from improved coordination and muscle development to increased levels of kindness and empathy.
Moore recommends sharing books that expand on a child’s outdoor interests, whether it’s bugs or birds, water or weather. “After playing outside, caregivers can share books with children about the things that pique their curiosity,” she said. “A Librarian can help you find books on topics that interest your child.”
Trotwood Children’s Librarian Dani Gustavich recently accompanied some young Library patrons out to the Nature Play Area.
Christopher, age 7, exclaimed, "I gave the bear a high five!" He hopped from one obstacle to the next. His favorite sculpture was the turtle because it's his favorite animal, and he likes the textured shell. His mom, Alissa, suggested it might be fun to roll a marble through the crevices of the shell.
Mya, age 10, said her favorite was “the bear with the bookbag on. It's cool!" Her mom, Ashley, favors the owl bench.
“It’s such a beautiful area and I am impressed that much of it was made out of salvaged wood from the tornadoes,” said Gustavich.
Visit the Nature Play Area at the Trotwood Branch Library, 855 E. Main Street, 45426.