On Easter weekend, a playground that had fallen into decay in a north Modesto neighborhood park began to spring up anew, thanks to a community partnership with the city.
Saturday, a “work day” for resident volunteers and the city staff who supervised their efforts, resulted in new play structures being largely in place at Wesson Ranch Park. Sunday, as families had picnics and Easter egg hunts there, and kids jumped in bounce houses and practiced on the park’s baseball diamond, the fenced-off playground awaited a couple more Saturdays of work before it can open.
“I grew up in the neighborhood, and my parents still live right there on West Union,” said the woman who got the ball rolling on the park renovation, Misty Ballard, who now lives on the south side of Standiford, near Woodrow Elementary.
The mother of three – ages 9, 7 and 3 – visits her parents often and enjoys walking over to the park with the children. But she’d observed how over the years the equipment had fallen into disrepair, including two sliding boards that had to be removed. “Everything was getting to the point where the city was going to have to take it out, because it wasn’t going to pass inspection,” she said.
Ballard decided she needed to figure out what could be done. About two years ago, she approached the city’s Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Department and learned of its Parks Partners Program.
The first thing she discovered?
“That I needed to raise a bunch of money,” she said with a laugh on Monday, “and also get the community involved, get a team of people to raise the money.”
Turns out, she was far from alone in wanting to see the park improved. “About six months into it, we had a community meeting at the park to see what people wanted and how much help they were going to be,” Ballard said. “There were a ton of kids at that meeting; there are a lot of young families in the area” who said they were on board.
Funding has come from a variety of sources: The city contributed from its Parks Partners Program money, Ballard got “some big chunks of donations” and, as it had done for the Modesto dog park on Morris Avenue, Boyett Petroleum held fundraising recycling days. CRV bottles, cans and plastic, scrap metal and printer cartridges were collected and Boyett matched donations dollar for dollar. “We got volunteers to go help with the recycling days and got residents to donate their recyclables,” Ballard said.
“We went out and helped them (the residents) create a marketing flier,” said Andy Johnson, acting manager of the parks department. In addition to grass-roots fundraising from within the community, area businesses and service clubs typically are funding sources for improvement projects, he said. In this case, “there are a lot of car dealerships in that area, and some of them supported it.” The money raised was put in trust with the Stanislaus Community Foundation, Johnson said.
When it’s done, the Wesson Ranch Park playground project will have cost between $70,000 and $75,000, Johnson said. The neighborhood raised about $50,000 of that, which covered the playground equipment cost, and the city covered the rest.
Without time donated by residents, an engineer and a contractor who removed the old equipment, the cost would have been more like $90,000, said Modesto Parks Project Coordinator Nathan Houx.
As for that playground equipment cost, “we got lucky on this one,” Johnson said, because the manufacturer Game Time had it on sale for 50 percent off. It was winter and the company was making room for new inventory, he said. “So we bought it and stored it from December to March.”
Thinking back on Saturday’s work day, “we got a lot done,” Ballard said Monday. A couple of play structures were erected, but there’s still some equipment to anchor with sunken concrete, swings to hang and a large slide to install. She figures there will be one more work day of just a few hours, to install the remaining equipment, then another day to put down wood chips. “I’m excited this is getting done,” she said.
Added Johnson: “It goes back to that community model of ‘Let’s all pitch in and do something wonderful together.’”
To learn more
▪ Project page on Facebook: www.facebook.com/WessonRanchParkFixOurPark
▪ Modesto’s Parks Partners program: www.modestogov.com/prnd/parks/partners/park_partners.asp