*Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the outdoor classroom's hours of operation. It will be open from dusk until dawn. This article has been updated to reflect the correct time.
This week, Tim Brunsman discovered a toad as big as his fist after turning over a log at the new in .
It brought back childhood memories of time spent outdoors. Brunsman is the city's parks operations superintendent, and he grew up in rural Fenton. Back then, other kids at Saint Louis University High School poked fun at his country roots.
Now, Brunsman is having the last laugh.
He spearheaded a campaign by Richmond Heights and to develop the outdoor learning space, located inside a fenced arc just west of playground. It includes a walking path, an amphitheater, a sand box (the Messy Play area), music stations, a log hut and more.
It's not just for kids: The classroom has been named a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.
At the facility's grand opening Friday afternoon, Brunsman told a crowd that a 2007 event at inspired his pursuit. He was teaching a group of kids about geocaching—a scavenger hunt aided by mapping technology—when it became apparent that they were afraid to go into a forested area to continue their search.
Their parents hadn't allowed them to explore the woods or creeks.
"I reassured them that nature was OK to play in," Brunsman said.
The project cost $230,000. Grant funding paid for $193,000 of it, and the two cities chipped in the remaining funds. Construction began in July 2011. It's one of only two such facilities open to the public in the St. Louis area, Brunsman said.
It will be open daily from dawn to dusk*.
The purpose of the facility is to help children learn developmental and social skills by exploring nature, said Ellen Cooper, membership and marketing specialist with the Parks and Recreation Cooperative. The cooperative is composed of Richmond Heights, Maplewood and .
Research shows there is less hyperactivity among children who are allowed to explore nature, she said. The cities will offer educational classes there, and the space will be available to Mid-County schools and organizations such as the Boy Scouts.
Carrie Coyne is a senior associate at SWT Design and served as project manager on the classroom. She said the classroom includes native plants such as switchgrass, prairie dropseed, weeping bald cypress trees and winterberry shrubs.
Between 90 percent and 95 percent of its perennials are native to Missouri, Brunsman said.
Friday's event also featured a joint Arbor Day proclamation and rope-cutting by Mayor James Beck of Richmond Heights and Mayor James White of Maplewood.
Go on a video tour of the new park Monday on Patch.