Independence's Riverside Park preserves historic fun, adds safety

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FUN-FUL ladder casts shadows, Riverside Park, Independence, Kansas

The National Trust for Historic Preservation's Preservation Blog has put its spotlight on the efforts of the City of Independence, Kansas, and the Friends of Riverside Park and Zoo (FORPAZ) to preserve the park's historic playground equipment while meeting modern safety requirements:

When Riverside Park's insurance company told park staff that they needed to remove two playground slides dating from the early 1900s for safety reasons, Barbara Beurskens, director of the Independence, Kan. park, knew that she and her team had to find a solution that would keep the metal playscapes in place.

"These are so important to the community," says park staffer Rachel Lyon of the tall slides manufactured by the now-defunct FUN-FUL company.

The solution involved installing tons of rubber mulch under the slides, improving guardrails, and undergirding ladders to prevent slip-throughs.

So often the difference between demolition and preservation is affection. City officials confronted with an insurance company's warning often respond with a helpless shrug, followed by an order to send the bulldozers. That's easier to do if you have no emotional connection to what's about to be torn down.

But the city officials here understood that generations of former children from Independence and the region have rich memories tied to these slides and see-saws, memories of overcoming their fears, memories of games of imagination.

I note from a websearch that Park Director Beurskens has worked for the City of Independence in one capacity or another for over 30 years -- clearly, she's been around long enough to understand that "This Place Matters" (to borrow an NTHP slogan). Perhaps she had children of her own who grew up playing on the big slides.

NTHP's Katherine Flynn has included (with my permission) some of my photos of Riverside Park's historic playground equipment from 2007. After an earlier visit in 2003, I described the equipment and wrote about my amazement that the playground equipment I remembered from my childhood visits was still there and in use, and I alluded to the liability concerns that have caused classic equipment to vanish from playgrounds and parks across the country.

A spinning circle -- the kind with the raised elongated bumps at right angles for traction, and bars radiating and rising from the center, then forking out and connecting to the edge. [My son] Joe was riding it, having me spin him faster and faster. As he was spinning, and as I was pondering whether, out of appreciation for the City of Independence having the guts to keep this classic play equipment available, I would refrain from filing suit if one of my kids were injured -- as if he could read my mind, Joe launched himself off the circle. His foot was caught by one of the handholds and it seemed he might be dragged around, but the circle stopped quickly. Joe was fine, grinning. He got up, brushed off the sand (that's what they use around all the play equipment -- not hard, splintery wood chips, but nice soft sand). "I intended to do that. I thought it would be cool to jump off!"

We passed through Independence in May, and we spent a couple of hours there walking through part of the zoo, riding the train and the carousel, and playing on the playground. It was a gray and damp day, so the slides didn't move very fast. Here are a few pictures which show some of the safety improvements:

FUN-FUL big slides, with new guardrails and rubber mulch, at Riverside Park in Independence, Kansas, by Michael Bates
FUN-FUL big slides with new guardrails and rubber mulch, at Riverside Park, in Independence, Kansas
Grates add safety to big FUN-FUL slide ladders at Riverside Park in Independence, Kansas, SX003886 by Michael Bates, on Flickr
Grates add safety to big FUN-FUL slide ladders at Riverside Park in Independence, Kansas
Improved guardrails on the big FUN-FUL slide tower at Riverside Park in Independence, Kansas, SX003885 by Michael Bates, on Flickr
Improved guardrails on the big FUN-FUL slide tower at Riverside Park in Independence, Kansas
Photos and videos Copyright 2013 by Michael D. Bates. All rights reserved.

MORE:

Visiting Riverside Park: The park is open 6 a.m. to midnight daily. The train, carousel, and mini-golf are open weekends from 1 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and weekdays from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and weekends from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. in spring and early fall. (October 20 is the last day in 2013 for the rides and mini-golf.) The zoo is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., April through October, then 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., November through March.

City of Independence Riverside Park and Ralph Mitchell Zoo webpage
Riverside Park and Ralph Mitchell Zoo on Facebook
Friends of Riverside Park and Zoo (FORPAZ) website
Friends of Riverside Park and Zoo (FORPAZ) on Facebook

BONUS: Playground swings sound like trumpeting elephants:

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 12, 2013 12:57 PM.

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