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Grant funds trails, classroom

Vivan Layton stands in new outdoor classroom at YMCA.

Getting back to nature is becoming easier at the Greater Brewton YMCA with the addition of walking and hiking trails and an outdoor classroom.

Vivian Layton, senior program director at the YMCA, said the addition of the trails and classroom came after applications for grants were approved.

“We are excited about what we have already been able to accomplish,” Layton said. “We are hoping to continue the work to enhance the experience of those who come to the Y.”

Layton said work already completed includes an outdoor classroom area funded through a grant made possible through the Gulf Coast Resource Conservation and Development Center.

“We filled out the grant application with a dream for these trails,” Layton

said. “We had a dream to create hiking trails and an area for outdoor

education. We also are keeping in mind the conservation of indigenous

animals and plants as well as considering the fitness aspects possible with

this project.”

Layton said a considerable amount of work has already been completed with plans to continue the project to expand across the property of the YMCA.

“We have a wonderful amount of property here for the YMCA,” Layton said. “We are planning to cover more property and continue to develop these trails. This will give us an opportunity to teach more people about the wildlife and plants that are native to our area.”

The Escambia County Bowhunters and the Extension Service have been a valuable assistance for the project, Layton said.

“When we began considering expanding trails here, we partnered with the Escambia County Bowhunters Association,” Layton said. “In exchange for allowing them to use the property for shooting events, they were gracious enough to help flesh out the depth of the trails.”

The trails, which wind through the outer perimeters of YMCA property, are dotted with markers throughout the area.

“We were lucky enough to have Shane Thomas offer to do some tree identification for us along the trails,” Layton said. “He is an Eagle Scout and was working on a project. His identification markers for the trees helped him reach a goal and it gave us another tool to use the trails for teaching. Our facility and grounds are visited by schools, clubs and a number of organizations for field trips. Those visiting groups will now be able to identify trees and various plants along the trails.”

Layton said the outdoor classroom will further offer educational possibilities for YMCA members and visitors to the property. Layton said the grant funds have made so much possible in enhancing and replacing lost plants and trees to the YMCA property, including the hiking trails.

“After Hurricane Ivan we had lost a number of trees,” Layton said. “With the RC&D grants we have built the classroom, installed a watering system and replaced some indigenous species of trees that were lost in the storm.”

Although the newly expanded hiking trails and construction of the outdoor classroom are all exciting projects, Layton said the dream hasn’t ended but has only grown.

“We have great plans and hopes for the continued development here,” Layton said. “We hope to create a boardwalk all the way to the creek behind the YMCA. We even have dreams of having a canoe landing at the creek and expanding the boardwalk to connect with a boardwalk that’s being constructed now (along Burnt Corn Creek near O’Bannon Park).”

Layton said a number of people have helped to make the dream of the YMCA staff become a reality.

“We have had some wonderful people working with us on this project,” Layton said. “Ann Rilling, a volunteer forester, helped us with the selection of trees. Bill Emmons, a beekeeper, also helped on the project and Steve Layton was our connection with the Bowhunters Club in working on the nature trails. Robert Flores and Jimmy Moulder with the club also help with part of the development of the full vision of what we could have here.”

Layton said Buck Farrior was also involved with teaching staff at the YMCA on care of the plants and shrubs on the property.

“We want to make a healthier space here,” Layton said. “Buck has helped with that and we are thankful. We know we need to be responsible when caring for this much property.”

Layton said future plans include planting food plots to attract animals to the trails.

“We want to do what we can to keep and attract animals to the property,” Layton said. “That way children and adults could see animals in a natural setting. We also are hoping that by being responsible landowners we can develop the property and someday become a Treasured Forrest. Wouldn’t that be great?”

For information on the outdoor classroom or how to take a tour of the trails, contact the Greater Brewton Area YMCA at 867-9622.