Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 3:39 PM on Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Playground re-do kicks off this week

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

There are plenty of issues to divide a community, but creating a fun, safe playground for youngsters isn't one of them. In fact, it can bring folks together, say Deb Cox and Miranda Weiss, co-chairs of HoPP, Homer Playground Project.

The community has an opportunity to do just that this week as HoPP draws attention to the playground at Karen Hornaday Park with help from John Dean of Play By Design, an Ithaca, N.Y., company specializing in community-built playgrounds.

"There's so much heavy stuff going on out there in the world. This is really, really a pretty positive thing when you're talking about it," said Cox. "No one told me I'm crazy or that it's a horrible idea. It's definitely an asset to being involved in this. It's a fun project."

Using input from the area's younger population, as well as local artists, builders, designers, educators and other community members, Dean will develop a draft design for the park today and Friday. On Saturday, a new playground kick-off party, complete with free hot dogs, grilled salmon, fresh local veggies and music by Rufaro, a kids' marimba band, will give the community an opportunity to view Dean's design. The goal is to have an updated Karen Hornaday Park completed by Summer 2012.

Other Alaska communities that have already been through the process and created new playgrounds agree with the overall benefits of the process.

"You don't get only a playground out of it, but you really form lasting relationships and friendships that are life-long. It's about community pride, bringing a community together that is something that will always live with me," said Dana McDonald, coordinator of a similar effort in Soldotna.

That project took two years, from 2009 to 2010, involved fundraising $225,000, drew on the volunteered efforts of 819 individuals, culminated in a week of building, and resulted in the 12,000-square-foot Soldotna Creek Park.

"It was working beside people you who you might never have known, but now you recognize," said McDonald. "A lot of people, when I see them in town, I think, 'Oh yeah, they were there helping build (or) they were serving food.' It was a project where every single person in the community could do something."

Talkeetna embarked on a similar project in February 2007 and built Wild Woods Park in 2008.

"Once we had the design, the formula was to push to get the work done. ... I have to agree that it was a good plan. It made all of us focus," said Karey Larsen, general coordinator of the Talkeetna project.

Although original plans called for a $90,000 budget, "it was very soon in the project that we knew it wasn't going to get us what we were dreaming of," said Larsen. Increasing the effort, community members raised more than $250,000. They sold fence tickets, a $50 "ticket" on which the buyer's name is engraved and displayed on the playground fence; they applied for and received some grants; they held a barn dance; they did a wine and dessert fundraiser, they did a magic show for Halloween, complete with workshops. The result, a 1,000-square-foot playground, is something of which Larsen is proud.

"It was a super experience. I think everybody that you would talk to would say the same thing," said Larsen. "It's such a positive community thing. We're always fighting over this and that and the other thing ... but it was fun to see everyone working side-by-side."

HoPP's request for proposal was submitted to five different playground firms known for their work on projects similar to Karen Hornaday Park. Dean's experience in other Alaska communities, including Talkeetna, as well as the playground-by-design principals fit HoPP's vision. It also fit with a community emphasis within the Karen A. Hornaday Hillside Park Master Plan prepared in June 2009 by Jack Wiles, project manager, Kachemak Bay Conservation Society; the city of Homer's Planning Department; and the city's Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission.

Dean's visit to Homer includes a work session with HoPP members, meetings with students at West Homer Elementary School, a reception with community leaders at Islands and Ocean Visitor Center and the kick-off party at the park from 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.

For more information on HoPP, visit www.HomerPlaygroundProject.org or email homerplayground@gmail.com.

For photos of the Soldotna, see www.soldotnacommunityplayground.com. For photos of the Talkeetna playground, see www.talkeetnaplayground.org.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.