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Connecting with nature
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Congressman Jim Marshall dropped by Covington Tuesday to give a booster speech to the Friends of Newton Parks, which is raising funds for Chimney Park, a handicapped-accessible park to be built behind the Newton County Library.

Marshall (D-Georgia) told the gathered crowd of approximately 50 people at the site of the future park that it was parks, trees and green space that really build a community and make a city worth living in.

"We tend to just sort of lay waste, acre after acre, in the interest of development," Marshall said, adding that creating parks where residents could gather was "terribly important to the quality of community."

The Friends of Newton Parks, a new 501(c)3 nonprofit, invited Marshall to speak as part of a greater national awareness campaign on No Child Left Inside, pending legislation in Congress that would provide $100 million annually for outdoor nature education for children.

"It's not good for their soul to just be sitting inside, not appreciating nature," he said of the national trend that has children spending much of their time indoors, watching TV and playing video games rather than playing outside.

Marshall is a co-sponsor of NCLI, which has broad support in both chambers of Congress. The House of Representatives is expected to have a floor vote on the legislation next week Marshall said.

While Marshall said he didn't think any direct funding from NCLI could go to construction of the park, which has an estimated price tag of $3.5 million, there might be some funding available for nature education activities at the park.

Chimney Park has been in the planning stages for a year and half. When it is built, it will cover 30 acres of donated county land and include a wheel chair accessible, top-of-the-line tree house, a mini-amphitheater and a large trail system.

"Our goal is to give children and adults of all ages and abilities a place to reconnect with nature," said Barbara Morgan, vice chair of Friends of Newton Parks. "Building parks helps to hold back the tide of over-development.

Kelly Hopkins, whose large family includes several children with disabilities, tearfully addressed the crowd and told them how much it meant to her and her family that the community was coming together to build an all-needs and abilities park.

"The way the park's going to be set up, they'll be places for us to go and enjoy our town," she said.

Hopkins also announced a new fundraising campaign - Pennies For the Park. The idea behind the fundraiser is that every little bit, even spare change, is needed to reach the fundraising goal. Children will be collecting spare change in designated Friends of Newton Parks boxes. Large checks are, of course, accepted as well.