New Outdoor Play and Learning Addition to Ahrens Park


Ahrens Park will soon be home to a new outdoor play and learning addition. The Ahrens Park Foundation (APF) is developing a naturalized Outdoor Play and Learning Environment, located just west of the Ahrens Family Center, which houses the Grinnell Community Early Learning Center.

This innovative new space will provide access to a diverse, naturalized space that supports play and learning. The new addition will directly benefit children in infant through preschool classes and school age after school attendees through 4th grade attending the Grinnell Community Early Learning Center. However, the space will also serve Ahrens Park users and the larger Grinnell community during after-hours and weekends while the Center is not open.

Chad Nath, president and CEO of the Ahrens Park Foundation, says “The Outdoor Play and Learning Environment will serve as a unique, fun, and engaging place for children and families from Grinnell and beyond.” Chad has been responsible for leading, managing, and promoting this new project for the APF and the Ahrens/Paschall Memorial Park complex just as he does with other projects and overall operations on a daily basis. Chad continues “There are many benefits to children and youth playing outside and improving the community in which these projects are developed. Outside, children and youth can release energy, use loud voices, play vigorously, and engage in messy projects. In addition, children can experience the plants and animals in their local ecosystem.”

When asked about how this project began, Chad explained that Ahrens Park Foundation (APF) proposes to engage the Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) in a collaborative, two- phase process to create a design for an outdoor play and learning environment serving Grinnell Community Early Learning Center children in infant through preschool classes and school age afterschool attendees through 4th grade. In addition, the space will serve Ahrens Park users and the larger Grinnell community. NLI will assist APF with creating an outdoor space serving theseusers, exemplifying best practices, informed by the latest research, supporting the importance of outdoor play and learning in naturalized surroundings for the healthy development of young children.

According to Jon Pettlon, President of the APF Board of Directors, a community survey was completed by APF in early 2023 to gain a deeper understanding of the wellness and educational needs that could be applied to the project. The natural learning environment will be composed of three spaces: an amphitheater with limestone seating for 50 people with a flat space at the bottom to serve as stage; an arbor space for plantings; and flowing water. The amphitheater will be used for outdoor lectures and demonstrations; the arbor space is intended to provide space for hands-on learning experiences, and the flowing water is for watering and aesthetic purposes. The main objective for this project is to provide an accessible space for preschoolers, school-aged children, and the general public where they can learn about nature and the environment.

If anyone is interested in donating to the Outdoor Play and Learning Environment project, please donate online at or mail a check to Ahrens Park Foundation, P.O. Box 679, Grinnell, IA 50112. Please be sure and mention Outdoor Play and Learning Environment in the check memo or online memo when making a payment.

The Ahrens/Paschall Memorial Park opened in 1994 and is named after Claude and Dolly’s son, Paul W. Ahrens, who passed away in 1989 at the age of fifty, and his friend, Jim Paschall, who also passed away at a fairly young age. Building a recreational park had always been a life-long dream for both Claude and his son, Paul.

The park is home to eight youth softball and baseball fields, outdoor basketball courts, a tennis court, four pickleball courts, a sand volleyball court, three youth soccer fields, a golf driving range, several playground areas, three shelter houses, a sledding hill, community gardens, green spaces, and a one and a half mile outdoor walking path. An outdoor ice-skating rink is open during the cold winter months.

The Ahrens Park Foundation (APF) was established in 1997 as a private operating foundation for the purpose of owning and operating the Ahrens/Paschall Memorial Park. APF’s mission is to provide first class recreational and athletic facilities while collaborating with wellness, educational and recreational programs, and organizations for the greater good of the community of Grinnell. Its partners include the Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation, Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation, Grinnell Community Early Learning Center, City of Grinnell’s Parks & Recreation, Grinnell Youth Baseball/Softball Association, Grinnell-Newburg Schools, Grinnell Chamber of Commerce, and Global Premier Soccer.

For more information about Ahrens Park Foundation or The Ahrens/Paschall Memorial Park, please visit


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