UNION TWP. - A big pile of dirt beckoned.
Dominique Compton, 12, Shane Kongo, 7, and J.D. Marshall, 6, couldn't resist - and at Cincinnati Nature Center's new Marge and Charles Schott Nature PlayScape in Clermont County, they didn't have to.
Soon they were stomping on the pile and rolling in it as J.D.'s father, John Marshall of Bethel, watched.
"When I was little, I was out on stuff like this 10 hours a day," he said.
But times have changed. Kids today spend most of their time indoors because of TV, video games and parental fears of letting children go outside unattended. As a result, they suffer what author Richard Louv calls "nature deficit," which research has linked to increases in childhood obesity, attention disorders and depression.
In his best-selling book "Last Child in the Woods," Louv points to research indicating that exposure to nature is a vital part of healthy childhood development. That's the inspiration for the Nature PlayScape - which formally opened Tuesday and, at 1.6 acres, is billed as the nation's largest.
It has no man-made playground equipment. Everything is focused on nature, and meant to encourage what's called "open-ended creative play."
Kids can climb on logs and boulders, dig in dirt, play in a stream and explore natural spaces.
Paths meander through varying habitats: a prairie with plantings such as coneflower, goldenrod and bee balm, ideal for attracting hummingbirds and butterflies; a woodland with sedges, ferns and…
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