The Castle Playground

how a neighborhood made something massive happen

Trevor Kupfer, photos by Leah Dunbar

PRETENDING TO STORM A CASTLE IS A LOT EASIER WHEN YOU HAVE AN ACTUAL CASTLE. Community members built the River Heights Elementary playground.

We’re in a time where a group of people can present and justify a case for something new before the city, but, just as quickly, get turned down because of budget strains. It’s easy to get jaded, thinking the community is too conservative to ever make something new happen. But we’re also in an area where, a mere three years ago, a small group of parents managed to gather almost 1,000 community members and raise more than $150,000 to build a playground.

Beside the fact that Menomonie’s River Heights Elementary playground is the most unique and arguably “the best” in the Valley, it’s also an example of community building and grassroots movements at their very best.

The idea was initially conceived by Bryan Beamer, one of the parents in the area that noticed the splintering condition of the playground and suggested pooling together the neighborhood resources for a new one. “I’m credited with coming up with the idea … but by the time it really got going, I was just a cog in the wheel,” he said.

What started as a dozen parents and PTO members soon grew to include partnerships with the school’s principal and staff, an architectural design class at Stout, dozens of businesses, and even the kid themselves, all of which volunteered as much as 15 hours a day and thousands of dollars to become a reality.

“It was wonderfully surprising, but frankly when I think back I shouldn’t have been so shocked,” PTO member Kate Jarvi said. “When we had that garage sale to start fundraising, we were inundated with stuff. It wasn’t a huge financial success, but that showed just how many people wanted to help this happen.”

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