Was it splashing through streams? Climbing a favorite tree? Building driftwood forts? What were the sounds? The smells? The colors? Who were you with?

baby crawling over a branch in the woodsThese early journeys and experiences in nature have an ability to shape our lives. They are filled with a sense of wonder, adventure, fantasy, and discovery – often packaged together in a single sunlit afternoon.

Unfortunately, these days few children have the freedom or opportunity – and consequently, the desire – to explore and experience nature in a way that is open-ended and unstructured. Between school, sports, and other beneficial, yet highly directed activities, today’s busy families often struggle to prioritize exploration and play in the natural world.

botanic garden meadowWith Your Support, We Can Change this Narrative

Projected to open in June 2022, the Garden’s newest project – The Backcountry – is a stimulating and wild space offering families and children an opportunity to connect with nature. Located on the west side of the Garden, just over Campbell Bridge, The Backcountry will be a garden where young people (and the young at heart) can climb, jump, run, gaze, and wonder at their rich and natural surroundings. By developing a connection to the natural world through exploration and play, we hope they will become conservationists and future protectors against the threats of climate change, encroaching overdevelopment, and vanishing ecosystems and biodiversity.

As an institution, it is our responsibility to help foster the next generation of stewards for our natural world. We expect this project will ensure that today’s children will learn to cherish and protect our environment for the generations that follow.
~ Peter Schuyler, Backcountry Campaign Chair


Numerous research studies reveal the many benefits of unstructured outdoor time, helping kids:

  • Use their imaginations, be adventurous and solve problems
  • Decrease anxiety and depression
  • Feel calmer and less restless
  • Increase self-confidence and self-reliance
  • Reduce childhood obesity
  • Build strength, balance, and stamina

Your donation powers our efforts to get kids outdoors


rendering of outdoor spaceBuilding a place for deep connections to grow

The Backcountry is designed to give children a safe, accessible opportunity to lose – and discover – themselves in nature. The space is not a traditional “playground,” yet not completely wild. It is a generous 4-acre site encompassing 10 inviting and distinct areas. While children and their imaginations run free through The Backcountry's natural environs, parents and caregivers can relax within earshot of their little adventurers at The Backcountry Base Camp. Not to worry, trained Nature Educators will guide the visitor experience and ensure safety throughout.


Playtime – especially unstructured, imaginative, exploratory play – is increasingly recognized as an essential component of wholesome child development.
~ Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods


rendering of outdoor spaceDesigned to Address "Nature Deficit"

According to a study by the University of Michigan, kids ages six to 17 spend only four to seven minutes per day in unstructured outdoor play compared to the four to six hours spent watching or using screens (For teens, this number jumps to 9 hours.) Even preschoolers are spending nearly three hours in front of a screen every day. While the technology itself is not inherently the problem, this data suggests that with only so many hours in a day, time spent engaging with nature may be losing out to time spent engaging with devices like cell phones.


Where Imagination Meets Adventure - The Outdoors Await

Through decades of nature education work here at the Garden, we know that getting kids excited about nature isn’t about presenting a set of facts or charts or even cool maps. It’s about connecting with their instinct for story and play, igniting their imaginations, and stimulating their senses.

The Backcountry is designed to do just that. As an immersive experience set within a vibrant natural space, with your help this project will offer children a unique opportunity for self-directed discovery that is often lost in more directive play environments. While The Backcountry will have primary appeal for kids aged five to 13, it can be enjoyed by those who are young at heart at any age.

collage of kids playing outside