Being outdoors and enjoying nature can provide a safe, secure place for children to play and families to picnic, especially in an area which is at risk from crime and a relatively high rate of poverty.

"Trails of Hope" is a project which has been undertaken by the nonprofit Hope Center in Horn Lake to improve the quality of life for the children and residents who live in the area around Shadow Oaks Elementary School.

Stacy Dodd with the Hope Center said the vision for the project to have the "Trails of Hope" was the brainchild of Sarah Bishop.

"It was her idea to have a place for children and families to come," said Dodd. "The goal is to clean these trails up. There have been old tires and mattresses dumped out here. We want the kids and resents to experience nature in the middle of Horn Lake."

Sprucing up the wooded area around the school has received the blessing of Shadow Oaks Elementary School Principal Michaela Smith.

"I would love for it to become an alternate area for recess as opposed to just going to the playground," Smith said. "We plan to have some outdoor classrooms since it's nestled among all these trees in the great outdoors," said Smith as she gestured towards the outstretched branches of ancient oaks and elms.

Smith, who grew up in Batesville, said she played outdoors as a child and wishes that students in her school could share a similar experience. "I grew up near Sardis Lake and I used to love to fish and walk through the woods."

The "Trails of Hope" will prove to be a catalyst of sorts to spur interest and fascination with nature, according to Smith.

"It prompts them to put down their cell phones and just experience nature," Smith said. "It's something that will help them with their concentration. This allows them to relax and think and connect with nature."

Smith said the curriculum at Shadow Oaks Elementary includes the natural sciences.

"There is a nature section on the fourth-grade science tests that they might be able to benefit from by being outdoors."

This past Saturday, an Eastern screech owl and other wildlife through the Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation Center were on hand to demonstrate the flora and fauna that can be found in the wooded areas of our cities.

"The most important thing is that we try to teach the children that they need to practice good conservation measures so these woods will be here for generations to come," said Melissa Conn, a volunteer educator for the Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. "It's also something that we can enjoy every day."

Tim Flesner, a volunteer with the Hope Center, said children today often grow up without a proper appreciation for the great outdoors.

"Today, a lot of the kids' focus is on the video games they play, and unfortunately, this can include exposure to a lot of violence. This gives them something calming and soothing to do outdoors."

Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.

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