The Build A Dream playground project began major construction on Wednesday May12, 2004 and ended on Sunday May 16, 2004. It is amazing what can be accomplished through the efforts of a hard working group of community volunteers. I would like to thank everyone in the community that worked so hard to give our children such a great place to play. Jackson calls it "the playground that daddy helped build." He and Benjamin are going to have so much fun on the playground for years to come.
I think that all those involved with the Build-A-Dream project twelve years ago are experiencing, at least in some degree, a sense of shared loss now that the playground is getting what I understand is a needed facelift. The reason I don’t know for sure is that I personally cannot remember the last time I took my boys there. Whenever that was, I am sure I did not know at the time that it would be the last trip for us. Time is cruel like that. I think that is one of the multiple layers that explain the connection we have to our little town’s large playground.
With all the wonderful resources now available to families in Mount Airy, it is hard to remember what it was like a little over a dozen years ago. The Emily B Taylor Greenway had opened a few years prior along Lovills Creek, but our town was in serious need of a place for our small children to play. Amy and I routinely drove over 30 minutes just to take our boys to a playground. We would often find ourselves at the playground in Hillsville, Virginia lamenting the fact that our own, much larger town, had no where for our boys to play. The few pieces of playground equipment at Riverside Park looked like they had been pulled from nearby factories decades earlier and stuck in the dirt. During school hours, there simply was no place to go.
The community based effort to fix that was simply phenomenal. From the initial dream of a few individuals to the inclusive process of approving plans and accepting input, to the fundraising, to the actual hands-on experience of everyone working together to build it, the entire process represented the very best in our community. For many of us, our children were still in pre-school, so we only knew a few other families with children the same age as our own. But during the build, we forged new friendships that would last for years to come. When I look down the sidelines during soccer games or through the audience at a high school play, I see so many friends that I first met while sawing boards at Riverside Park in May 2004. Some of the families have since moved away to larger or different towns, but the memories are still there.
My own efforts were minimal compared to most, but because of those evenings spent working on the job site, my oldest for years referred to it as “the playground my daddy built.” I imagine that experience was shared with most of the families in town. My children could tell you exactly the parts that their dad helped with. So that shared experience of coming together to build something for our children makes it very special.
But for all of us that were there on opening night with our children, that also marks a very memorable time in our lives. When our children were at an age where a playground was an exciting thing. All but a few of the children that entered under the Build A Dream archway in 2004 are now teenagers. They are in middle school, driving, graduating high school, in college. Even so, in my mind, it does not seem possible for something so new and magical to already be in need of repair is part of our problem. It is too hard for my eyes to see the faded paint in the same way that a new parent would. I have to imagine that new parents of young children are very excited about the prospect of new, shiny, safe playground equipment for their boys and girls to play on, just as I was 12 years ago. So while I mourn the days gone by, I am super excited that our town has evolved into what it is now. We are now a town that will invest in new playground equipment. We went from one greenway, to two that will soon be connected by even more miles of trail. The Ararat River was filled with families laughing, floating, fishing and picnicking this past weekend. The cornfields and swamp behind the elementary school were converted into soccer fields that stay busy each fall and spring. Our Main Street continues to improve rather than decline. While my teenagers no longer use the playground, they practically live at the rec center where they can shoot basketball year round. We have two places to play indoor soccer. We have a skateboard park, Westwood Park, a fantastic baseball field and on and on. And I like to feel like the Build A Dream project played at least a small part in our community’s recognition that things like that are both needed and appreciated.
So with appreciation of the future, here are a few photos from that magical time when the old playground was the new one.