CROSBY - Project Play is more than a new playground in Crosby.
It's become nothing short of a miracle.
Last week, more than 200 volunteers a day worked from morning until night for six days building the city's new playground at Crosby Memorial Park along Serpent Lake, a project that began as an idea by one Crosby mother of two.
This idea not only sparked a movement to build the $150,000 playground - built with all donated funds - but it has literally brought the community together for its children. This is a community that was splintered and continues to heal from the 2005 Crosby-Ironton teachers' strike.
"It wasn't so much about the playground, it was about the process for our community," said Michelle LeMieur, a Project Play organizer and mother of four, including triplets.
Laura Roberts came up with the idea for a new playground in Crosby Memorial Park after her sister had a community-built playground constructed in her city. The Crosby park had some outdated play equipment, all 20 to 40 years old, that had been leaning and falling apart.
Roberts and LeMieur presented the idea of a new playground to city council members last August and they liked the idea. In January, the women gathered together a playground committee and held a community presentation about the playground.
In April, they hosted a design day in which Leather and Associates, the playground design firm from New York, sent a designer to Cuyuna Range Elementary School to find out what the children wanted for their playground.
The committee worked hard to raise the necessary funds for the project, and slowly, as support for the new playground grew, the checks began to roll in.
The women started with nothing, but a personal check from Roberts for $250 and a couple thousand dollars from the city's start-up fund got things rolling. Deerwood Bank gave $10,000, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center gave $30,000, along with other contributions by Crosby area businesses, organizations and families.
They held several fundraisers, including selling children's hand-painted tiles for $10 each that now line the railings at the playground. Once they reached about $75,000 in donations, they received a $75,000 matching grant from the Hallett Trust Foundation, which made it possible for organizers to build the playground this fall.
Volunteers constructed the Croft Mine play area in the Tot Lot at the Project Play playground at Crosby Memorial Park. Volunteers worked Sept. 11 through Sunday to construct the park, which opened at 6 p.m. Sunday. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood » Purchase reprints of this photo.
On Sept. 11, they went to work, completing the playground in time for a ground-breaking ceremony at 6 p.m. Sunday. The playground has been in high demand ever since. On Tuesday afternoon, it was filled with children and their parents.
"It's amazing," Roberts said. "This is the way it's been since the park was built and this is exactly what the community needed. It's the most popular place in town right now. I can't believe all the kids. It's awesome to see it."
The 12,000-square-foot playground is an eye-catching site along Serpent Lake. Roberts said they were hoping to create an exciting, colorful play area that, when people drove into Crosby and saw Project Play, they'd say, "Wow." She said they believe they've achieved this.
The playground includes many design elements that CRES children said they wanted. It features a large wooden castle with a wave maze, a Viking ship and a nearby pirate ship, a Trojan horse, along with a treehouse and many playground favorites like slides, swings, a fire pole, a climbing wall, a dinosaur dig, climbing ropes and a serpent slide.
An adjacent Tot Lot for children ages 2-5 features a train, plenty of tubes to climb into, a teepee that small children can peek out of and a Croft Mine sandbox and digger.
Zak Klancher, a Deerwood area resident and carpenter for Nor-son, took six days off to help construct the playground. On Tuesday, he and his wife and three children, ages 2, 4 and 8, were playing at Project Play.
Sam Roberts was among the children attempting to scale the DNA Climber Tuesday at Project Play in Crosby near Serpent Lake. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"It was very important to me," Klancher said of the project. "I knew kids were going to use it and I had to be here for that. It's very much brought the community together. I can now put a name to a face."
Project Play is located next to the band shell so families who attend Music in the Park on Thursdays also may enjoy the playground. Roberts said they have plans to soon add an asphalt walking path around the playground so moms can do laps for exercise while their children are playing.
The young critics at the playground Tuesday gave Project Play a resounding thumbs-up.
"I like climbing up the dragon's tongue," Joseph Slepica, 4, said of the serpent slide. "That's how he spits you out."
"The other playground didn't have anything," said Luke LeMieur, Michelle LeMieur's 9-year-old son. "It's really cool."
Roberts and LeMieur said Project Play is not the end, but only the beginning in revitalizing the community. The next project likely will include renovating the swimming beach at the park.
"It was a great experience," Roberts said of building the playground. "There's a sense of community and pride. Hopefully people will have a sense of ownership and pride. Crosby, Ironton and Deerwood are all little communities but we're all one community on the Cuyuna Range and it was a great way to bring people together. Everyone shared their time and talents and got to know their neighbors. We just felt that was needed in our community. We went through a bad strike and now we've got a (school district operating levy) referendum coming up. We do really care about our kids and it was a good way to bring our community together."
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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