Playground’s opening could come in weeks|[07/02/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Kids, the wait is almost over.

Vicksburg city ground crews were breaking up asphalt and building a concrete wall at the Playground at Catfish Row Tuesday, the first step in the final process of readying the downtown area for use.

“We know the community has anticipated the opening as much as we have and the amount of work everybody put in… we’re just all very ready for the children to be able to play on it,” said Junior Auxiliary of Vicksburg president Ann Roberson. “We are very excited about the upcoming opening.”

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The playground on Mulberry Street just east of City Front and the Yazoo Diversion Canal is the result of more than a year-long effort led by the JA. The land was given to the JA by the city in its effort to continue revitalizing City Front.

For the two months since about 300 volunteers, JA members and Leathers and Associates, a company which has specialized in designing and planning community-built playgrounds since 1971, worked for five days to build the playground, it has been surrounded by caution tape to keep it off-limits. Now the city is doing its part to complete the project.

“A week or two, weather permitting, and we’ll be done with our part,” said city grounds crewman Carl Harris. “Then they’ll come in and put the rubber down.”

In the coming days, grass will replace the asphalt currently surrounding the playground, wall boarders will go up, a curb will be built to allow the rubberized foundation material to be put down and a special brick walkway will be put in place to connect the playground to the Art Park at Catfish Row, just west of the playground.

The brick walkway was one of the ways the JA raised money for the project while adding a personal touch to the area. The bricks will be personalized with buyers’ names or messages.

“We sold fence pickets, handprint tiles and bricks as one of our major fundraisers,” said JA project co-chairman Melissa Blackburn. “People paid to have their names engraved or have their handprints on them. We had people put children’s names and ages and family names and a lot of handprints. I think we even had a few people do their dog’s paw print.”

Other funds have been raised through a community garage sale, by placing signs in yards that urged the owners to pay to have them removed and by sending letters out to the community. The project’s total cost was about $200,000.

The riverboat-themed playground will include slides, an obstacle course, a fire pole, a cradle climber, a rubber bridge and swings and will be the first handicapped-accessible playground in Vicksburg. The park was designed by students who gathered in February to discuss how they’d like the area to look.

“As soon as the rubber is down, the park will be open to the public but we will have a formal opening as soon as everything is finished,” said Blackburn, who declined to nail down a date for the opening.

“Many of our sponsors don’t have children and wouldn’t have a reason to come out to the playground, so we want to have an opening so they can come and see what they helped to do,” Blackburn said. “The public will be invited as well.”

At City Front in the past five years, the city has participated in or sanctioned the renovation of the Levee Street Depot, the Riverfront Murals Project that has brought 27 historical murals to the floodwall and the building and the opening of the Art Park and Water Park at Catfish Row.