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‘Better than a dream come true’
When nearly 100 volunteers turned out recently at Evergreen Rotary Park to install new equipment for the Beyond Accessible Playground, it was proof positive that many hands make light work.
The volunteers were able to accomplish in one sweltering day what would have taken city parks crews weeks to finish.
“It’s hard to guess how long it would have taken our park crew to do something they hadn’t done before, but I think a month’s a fair guess,” Bremerton Parks Director Wyn Birkenthal said.
“We would have had to string that work out for a pretty long time because our small crew still has to cut grass, pull weeds, empty garbage and service restrooms.”
The new playground, the county’s first ADA-accessible play facility, comes to Bremerton thanks to the hard work of Bremerton Beyond Accessible Play, a group of parents formed in 2011 that is dedicated to creating accessible play opportunities for children with special needs. When the new playground opens next month, it will potentially be utilized by as many as 3,500 kids with disabilities within the park’s service area.
Previously, getting to the closest accessible playground required a 60 mile round-trip drive to the Gig Harbor area.
Rebecca Uhtoff, Bremerton Beyond Accessible Play’s vice president, was thrilled by the overwhelming turnout of volunteers to install all of the new equipment.
“We’ve been hard at work for the last three-and-a-half years advocating, fund-raising and building up community support and to put all of that into action in one day was such a blessing,” Uhtoff said.
“The volunteers assembling a place for kids to play with friends and families without any limits is better than a dream come true. It’s hard to find the words to describe it all. There were lots of happy tears that were shed along with all of the sweat.”
The installation of the equipment also coincided with Uhtoff’s son’s birthday. Gabe,who will soon be a regular user of the playground, turned 10 on the day of the installation.
“To have my son’s birthday that same day and have everybody sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to him and share cake was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said.
Birkenthal said that the many volunteers who showed up to install the equipment, and the many folks who have volunteered on a daily basis ever since to keep working on it, can have a real sense of ownership in the project.
“One of the things it does, besides contributing money and sweat equity into a project, is it helps vest the community in the project,” he said. “A lot of folks helped build it and they are gonna discourage vandalism and look after it. When you have a large number of people involved in a project, it takes on more value in the community and is therefore better protected and maintained over time.”
The new playground is tentatively slated to open Aug. 24 for public use. Another work party to put in some finishing touches, and a soft opening for some kids who would like to explore and experience the new space in a safe, quiet setting, will likely occur the day before the opening. Later on, in early September, there will be an official ribbon-cutting ceremony.