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Helping break ground Nov. 12 for the Chesapeake Sensory Plaza at Rockfield Playground in Bel Air are, from left, Barry Suits, president, Maryland American Water; Carrie Williams, president, American Water Charitable Foundation; Susan Burdette, mayor, Town of Bel Air; Les Grimm, Greater Bel Air Community Foundation.
Helping break ground Nov. 12 for the Chesapeake Sensory Plaza at Rockfield Playground in Bel Air are, from left, Barry Suits, president, Maryland American Water; Carrie Williams, president, American Water Charitable Foundation; Susan Burdette, mayor, Town of Bel Air; Les Grimm, Greater Bel Air Community Foundation. (Courtesy Patti Sterling)

Ground was broken last week for the Chesapeake Sensory Plaza, a 5,000-square-foot, water-themed play area at Rockfield Park in Bel Air designed to encourage creativity, exploration and learning in a unique and interactive setting.

The project, expected to open in April, is made possible through a $150,000 Building Better Communities grant offered by the American Water Charitable Foundation and administered by the National Recreation and Park Association.

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The grant program enables communities to build water and nature-inspired play spaces that highlight the importance of natural resources and the environment. Additional funding was provided by the Greater Bel Air Community Foundation and the Bel Air Recreation Committee.

The American Water Charitable Foundation is committed to participating and investing in programs that benefit communities served by American Water, according to a company news release.

“Maryland American Water has operated Bel Air’s water system for nearly 90 years and our foundation is pleased to partner with the Town of Bel Air to provide residents and visitors the opportunity to learn, enjoy and appreciate water in a fun and engaging way,” Carrie Williams, American Water Charitable Foundation president, said in a prepared statement.

Patterned after the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Chesapeake Sensory Plaza will engage visitors in the natural environment by providing a interactive experience featuring the beauty and power of water, according to the release. The space will represent the five states that comprise the watershed, and manual hand pumps and water switches will start the flow of water into a 60-foot-long channel traversing the length of the plaza.

The channel will feature a variety of mill wheels, lock gates, flaps, forks and collecting areas for visitors to manipulate and explore. Educational signage and illustrations will showcase the watershed’s ecosystem as well as highlight the importance of water conservation and environmental stewardship practices.

“As the first of its kind in the state of Maryland, we are excited to bring this unique educational play space to Bel Air,” said Kevin Small, the town’s planning director. "As a Sustainable Maryland Certified community, we value the opportunity to teach local families the importance of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed area.”

“Places like the Chesapeake Sensory Plaza ensure children and families can experience water, have access to water-based education and nature play spaces, which are key to building the next generation of environmental stewards,” Karl Schrass, NRPA director of conservation, said. “We are proud to support the Town of Bel Air and the Chesapeake Sensory Plaza through our partnership with the American Water Charitable Foundation and encourage communities everywhere to explore the wonders of nature through their local parks and recreation.”

For more information about the Building Better Communities program, visit https://amwater.com/corp/customers-and-communities/american-water-charitable-foundation/signature- program.

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