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Story and photos by Emily Freehling, Hugh Mercer PTA president.

Volunteers from Tree Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg City Public Schools, and the Hugh Mercer Elementary School PTA planted 24 trees and shrubs, and 300 daffodil bulbs on campus, as part of an effort to create a unique outdoor learning space named Patriot Park.

The project was funded in part by a grant that the University of Mary Washington’s Climate, Environment and Readiness (CLEAR) planning group received from the Jack O’Neill Fund for a Green Community, administered by the Community Foundation of the Rappahannock River Region. The grant is intended to create a “Living Landscape.”

“The purpose of the project was to help connect more children in our schools with nature, by planting trees on the playgrounds and around the school,” said Tree Fredericksburg President Anne Little.

Working with local landscape architect Carolyn Helfrich, Little identified a small stand of trees behind the school. “We decided to see if we could take this mini forest and make it a small exploratorium for the children,” she said.

Tree Fredericksburg worked with various groups through the fall to help make that happen. Bartlett Tree Experts cleared the area of overgrowth and invasive species, and ensured that the trees in the area were well-trimmed and safe.

A volunteer work crew that included members of the Rappahannock Rotary Club, Steve Rossi of Rappahannock Landscape, Bill Lynch of Sunshine Ballpark, and Tree Fredericksburg volunteers Sally Hall, Steve Watkins, Catherine Moncure, Mike Zubick and Missy Zubick spent a day at the school creating a winding nature trail, and laying out areas where outdoor “classrooms” will allow groups of students to gather in the new landscape.

Stone Center of Northern Virginia provided a discount on the stone dust that makes these paths more accessible for students of all abilities.

Hugh Mercer Elementary School Principal Marjorie Tankersley worked closely with Tree Fredericksburg on the placement and selection of trees and shrubs for the project. “We know the benefits children receive from time spent outdoors,” she said. “This wonderful collaborative project is one of many exciting volunteer efforts on our campus right now. It complements the planning our PTA is doing to bring an ADA-compliant playground to campus, so that all children will have improved outdoor recreation opportunities.”

The Hugh Mercer Elementary School PTA also contributed volunteers and funds to the project.

“We are very pleased with the partnership that Tree Fredericksburg has with the Fredericksburg City Public Schools in creating Patriot Park,” said Dr. John Gordon, director of administrative services for the schools. “It was our goal to improve the landscaping of our space at Hugh Mercer Elementary School, while providing our students with a unique educational opportunity. We believe these changes will make the grounds at Hugh Mercer more inviting, as well as helping to stimulate student creativity and outdoor exploration.”

Families with children at the school helped to plant willow oaks, river birches, and other trees within the landscape. They also planted 300 daffodil bulbs that will bloom in the spring to create a field of yellow and green — Hugh Mercer’s school colors — at the entrance to the new wooded landscape. Half of the bulbs were provided by Roxbury Farm & Garden Center at no cost.
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