4:23 min May 06, 2024

Pocono Fun for Kids at Lilliana's Nature Discovery Area

Explore Lilliana's Nature Discovery Area, a special place for kids to play among the trees near the Kettle Creek Environmental Education Center!

From talking through tubes and getting 'the bug' to build, to rowing down the river and using nature's ingredients to make mud pies and pizzas, Lilliana's Nature Discovery Area behind the Kettle Creek Environmental Education Center in Bartonsville has kept kids curious since 2017.

“You walk through the archway and it's just bursting with things for kids to do,” said Sandi and Gareth Denniston of Saylorsburg.

It's a place where fairies, forts, and fossils come before today's technologies. Roots from a toppled over tree have even become a Bug Hotel, the branches now a bench within 'the gathering area.'

“The area is always expanding like how the love of nature is always expanding. You can always discover new things in nature every time you go out there,” added Sandi and Gareth Denniston.

Lilliana’s Nature Discovery Area was created in memory of Lilliana Denniston, who loved other children and nature. Sandi and Gareth are her parents.

"She was the kindest person that I ever met. She could have been out here for hours just playing and discovering little things in nature. She would watch the little insects crawl along the way, look at the trees, and just sit out there reading books,” they remembered.

In 2015, what started as strep throat, led to Lilliana unexpectedly passing away at just 14 years old.

“It's always hard for me to talk about it, but she was always making sure kids were comfortable and had what they needed. She was always catering to kids. When I come out here and see a kid playing, it's just precious to me. I love seeing kids play out there, it reminds me of her,” they added.

Lilliana attended day camps and other programs at Kettle Creek, a 166-acre wildlife sanctuary. Visitors can also explore indoor exhibits, three miles of hiking trails (including a paved, ADA accessible trail), and two ponds.

“Being a unique natural area, the Poconos has a lot to offer outdoors, but it's also a growing area population-wise. We feel it's extremely important to educate both visitors and residents about the natural environment here and why it's important to protect and conserve certain areas,” said Roger Spotts, environmental education coordinator.

East Stroudsburg University students helped the Denniston's design the play stations, as did Karen Boyle, one of Lilliana's favorite Kettle Creek instructors. Shortly after the Discovery Area opened, Karen lost her hard-fought battle with cancer. A lending library and bench were created in her memory.

“Because I work on the property, I come up here sometimes when nobody else is around. When you walk through there, you do hear things or remember things from the past. Not only Karen and Lilliana, but all the kids who have been involved with programs here,” Spotts added.

Lilliana's Nature Discovery Area is open year-round, seven days a week, dawn to dusk. New elements are always being added. There's also a nearby pavilion and picnic area.

“The kids are our future. If they're not going to protect and preserve the environment, then who is? We need to teach kids when they're younger that the environment is an important part of our community, so they'll grow up to continue preserving the environment for us,” Sandi and Gareth Denniston said.

Encouraging kids to follow in her footsteps and live life like Lilliana.