Seventeen years ago, 4,000 volunteers came together and in nine days made a dragon come to life. The architects were school children, and I have been told they had some very imaginative ideas including installing a spit bucket that could be used to keep the slide lubricated. Although all ingenious ideas could not be incorporated, a playground took form and it became a treasured icon in Downtown Missoula.
An army of volunteers was again raised, but this time it was to “Save the Dragon,” because in the words of my three-year-old daughter, the children played so much they wore the playground out.
The project began when the original architects recommended an extensive refurbishment of the entire play area.
As we began to fundraise, it became clear that not only did we need to renovate the original structure, but we also needed to make sure that all children, including those with disabilities, could enjoy this play area. It was simply the right thing to do. With an amazing committee leading the charge we tackled this project and the Missoula community responded, much the way they did 17-years ago, with their full support.
To refurbish the existing structure wood was replaced with low maintenance recycled structural plastic, many of the components were replaced including new slides, ladders, tunnels, and any remaining wood was painted and stained.
Along with these renovations to the current structure all inclusive features are being added including:
- A rubberized pathway throughout the park to allow access by wheelchairs to existing play features
- New inclusive elements such as a cozy cocoon where children with autism (and others) can retreat from the crowd
- A large, cable jungle gym that spins
- A merry-go-round that can accommodate two wheelchairs and a net swing to provide extra support
- A slide where two can ride side-by-side, accessed by a climbing slope rather than steps
- A swing designed so two can ride face-to-face
- Activity panels and musical instruments.
On Thursday, late in the afternoon, a crew of volunteers from our Missoula bank joined in the efforts digging post holes, deconstructing portions of the old structure, building new steps and a lucky few were assigned the task of recreating art from the build 17 years ago. All-in-all nearly 1,500 volunteers are helping with the efforts, many in the pouring rain, and the dragon will be saved for children of future generations to enjoy.