BY CHRIS BRAUER
Anyone driving through Crawford Bay this summer will notice significant changes as they enter the community. The playground, once marked by scruffy patches of course grass, wind-blown trash and dangerously out-of-date equipment, has received a major facelift thanks to the efforts of Ellie Reynolds and her husband Charles.
“The playground was a sad place for a long time,” said Reynolds. “The swings were held together with duct tape, and there was exposed metal on the slide. No one took their kids there. I think people were ashamed of it.”
Unappealing playgrounds and dangerous equipment does not invite play, so important in a world ruled by screens and artificial noise. Reynolds decided she no longer wanted a sad forgotten playground in Crawford Bay, but rather an inviting, interactive, sensory adventure for her children, as well as the children of the East Shore and the children of holiday families driving through.
As coordinator for the East Shore Alliance Supporting the Early Years (EASEY), Reynolds began to look at different possibilities for a new playground – what costs were involved and what designs were most conducive to various levels of play. Her priority was to find something suitable for children under the age of six, but would be appropriate for children of all ages.
Reynolds began to research various grants two years ago, but found it difficult to find support for a new playground. “I got turned down a lot,” said Reynolds. “A typical play structure runs anywhere from $40,000 to $90,000 – and that doesn’t include someone to install it. I wasn’t sure how we were going to raise that kind of money.”
Rather than take a defeatist attitude, Reynolds continued to research, write grant applications, and search out possible corporate donors. She then discovered a new movement in playground design that encouraged children to interact with more natural elements: tree stumps and hollow logs, sand and water, and slides embedded in the side of hills. Embracing multiple levels of creativity, these natural playgrounds emphasize non-linear thinking and a unique tactile experience. The idea, says Reynolds, was to offer a wide range of open-ended play options for children. “A lot of people asked me why it was important to build a park when there aren’t many children living in Crawford Bay. They didn’t see the reasoning behind it, and I had to remind them that there are lots of children in the area, and lots of children passing through that would benefit from spending time in a beautiful park. Some people told me I was crazy, and others thanked me for what I was trying to accomplish. I just figured that if I build it, they will come.”
Reynolds and her husband spent hundreds of hours researching the overall design, and making sure all the elements of the new playground would connect to different methods of learning. “Typically a professional playground designer will charge $12,000 but Charles provided this service for free. We have three young children and we certainly kept them in mind the whole time. We took it on as a family project,” said Reynolds. “Unlike some traditional playgrounds, we wanted a park that would appeal to families for several hours.”
The hard work paid off. Kokanee Springs Golf Resort and the Nelson & District Credit Union got on board, and donated enough to propel Reynolds forward. The Kootenay Lake Lions Club soon followed suit, and then BCAA launched their Play Here community investment initiative. “Community groups nominated over 530 play spaces across the province in need of revitalization, but Crawford Bay shortlisted for the top five. I think this was because our design was so unique,” said Reynolds.
Over 300,000 British Columbians voted to decide the winner. “We were competing with much larger communities so I wasn’t sure of our chances,” said Reynolds. “We didn’t win but, as runner-up, we received $20,000 to put towards our vision. It was actually a blessing because the winners received a packaged playground, and that’s not what we wanted.”
Reynolds received the good news while she was in the hospital, about to give birth to her third child. “That was quite the week,” she said. “I was taking calls and giving interviews in bed. There was money coming in from RDCK and another community fundraiser, and by that point I knew we had enough funds for the playground we had designed. But now we had to actually turn our plan into a park. That’s when I started to get nervous.”
There was a lot to do, but with assistance from YRB (in re-landscaping hills and digging holes and volunteer manpower) and further volunteer help from the community, the park has transformed into something Crawford Bay can be proud of. “We broke ground about a month ago, and we’ve put in a lot of 10-hour days while our children tested out the different stations. No-one has been paid, but the volunteer time and supplies were always there when we needed them,” said Reynolds.
Now featuring several outdoor instruments, the roots of trees, hollowed out logs, tunnels, a water pump and sand table, various slides, new turf, native plants and walkways, Reynolds is proud of how much has been accomplished. She also believes that the park will evolve as the years go on. “It’s not quite finished, but already we have children coming to the playground and not wanting to leave. A lot of people have been surprised by how much we have changed the landscape – especially when they remember what it was like before. It now has a magical energy.”
Hoping for an attractive space for parents as well as children, the final phase of the park will include more seating and signage on the road so that visitors know what they are looking at when they drive by. “I’ve seen a lot of people slow down and wind down their windows because they haven’t seen anything like it before. The natural beauty and resources of the area are represented in the playground, and I hope Creston families will come down and check it out this summer,” said Reynolds. “These kinds of playgrounds often cost $100,000 but, with endless hours of volunteer planning and building, we’ve made it happen. It’s so great. I’m so happy.”