Junior Auxiliary gains ground on downtown play area|[01/21/08]

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 21, 2008

A weekend walk-through indicated everything is on track for a new downtown playground that will complement the Art Park at Catfish Row.

Heading the effort is the Junior Auxiliary of Vicksburg, with a five-day construction period set for April 2-6.

Megan Buckner, who, along with Melissa Blackburn, is a Project Playground chairman, said what makes the endeavor unique is that the playground has been designed by children and the community is providing the money and construction muscle.

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On Saturday afternoon, Buckner, Blackburn, Jeff Richardson, Vicksburg’s landscape architect, and project architect Michael Thomas of Stroudsburg, Pa., met to examine the work site, which is on Mulberry Street south of LD’s Kitchen.

“This construction space is going to be a very tight working area, and we need to make it as safe as we possibly can for the volunteers,” Thomas told the group.

Regardless of the close working quarters, Buckner said, everything will still go as planned. Once completed, the play area will have a riverboat theme and will include musical instruments, a rain wheel, several slides, a bouncy bridge, a fire pole, monkey bars and a swing. And, Buckner said, the playground will not only be handicap-accessible, it will be “user-friendly.”

“We want this playground to be more than just accessible to kids with disabilities,” she said. “We want them to be able to participate — kids with both physical and mental handicaps.”

Plans have been in the works to build the $180,000 playground for more than a year. A design day was held in February. Area students offered suggestions on how they would like the playground to look. In August, a garage sale was held at the old Blackburn Motor Company on Washington Street to raise awareness and money.

Buckner said funds are about $40,000 short of the total needed, but she was confident the gap will be closed. One of the ways the organization is looking to fill that void is with “school of fish” signs. The signs are placed in yards, and the residents can pay any amount to have them removed.

Buckner also said tiles to contain the handprints of area children continue to be sold and will be offered from 4 until 6 p.m Tuesday at the Southern Culture Heritage Center. The tiles will become parts of the play area.

The site, once an ice house near the bustling steamboat landing, was donated to the service club by the city.

“I just think this is a wonderful place for a playground,” Buckner said. “There’s just so much activity in this area — the art park, the murals and downtown. I think it’s a great spot.”

After the play area is built, the group will give it back to the city for maintenance and upkeep. Similar projects have been done in cities around Mississippi, such as Oxford’s Avent Park and Meridian’s Planet Playground.

In addition to the Art Park, which contain’s children’s work and a splash fountain, the area is also home to the River Front Murals and is to be the home for the Vicksburg Transportation Museum and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Interpretive Center.