A group of mothers is looking to upgrade the renovations coming to the playground in McLean Central Park. It won’t be cheap, though, and that’s where it hopes the community steps in.
The McLean Central Park Playground Team wants the makeover to include accommodations for accessibility, rubberized flooring, sensory play options, and more, to bring Central Park, on Dolley Madison Boulevard, in line with the facilities at Clemyjontri Park, on Georgetown Pike.
The group also wants to bring the tot lot for small children and the playground for elementary-aged kids next to each other, so families with kids of different ages can go to one spot.
The effort started about two years ago “around the fact that during the pandemic, we were all looking for ways to get outside and still see each other,” says Angie Golder, one of the members of the team. “Playgrounds were this huge outlet for families.”
Cara Schantz, another member of the group, grew up in McLean and moved to Arlington when she got married. After her family moved back to McLean, she still drove her kids to Arlington to play, which she called “very disappointing.”
“There’s parks everywhere that have such amazing amenities,” parent Lacey Obry says. “Why is McLean — such a prominent community and a small community at that — why are they not putting money into this park? Why do we not have a playground to be proud of other than Clemyjontri?”
‘We’re really committed’
A collection of Facebook threads brought parents together to share their concerns about the condition of the Central Park playground, and through that they learned that it was due to be renovated. Over almost a year, from May 2021 to March 2022, parents in McLean contributed to public comment periods on the proposed changes. But the plan wasn’t what they’d hoped. For example, it kept the two playgrounds blocks apart and only called to renovate the playground for older kids.
Working in conjunction with playground designer Joseph Cox from Cunningham Recreation and the Fairfax County Park Authority, Schantz says the group developed a plan over the second half of last year to combine playgrounds and renovate both at the same time.
Jenny Gregory, another member of the team, says the parks authority was “very receptive to what a lot of families in the community wanted.”
Golder added that that relationship took a while to develop. “I think none of us imagined we would be involved in this years-long process. But we’re really committed, and I think that the Parks Authority and the (Fairfax County Park) Foundation have seen that.”
In February, the park authority, park foundation, and the Central Park Team finalized the plan. But the bond for renovation of the playground was about $280,000; to fully implement the team’s plan would take another nearly $400,000.
Jessica Wu, who is on the team, says the rubber flooring is one of the most expensive items, but that “We thought it was so important.” Not only do children in wheelchairs have a hard time negotiating the mulch, but many kids come to Central Park with elderly caregivers. “It’s a lot more accessible.”
Wu says the group has until December to raise the money. If they fall short of the goal, the rubber flooring “will be the first thing that is taken away.”
“So,” Schantz says, “We decided to fundraise.”
They’re seeking donations through the McLean Central Playground Team website; they’ve held fundraising events already and plan more, including a potential McLean restaurant week.
‘Opens up a world’
Obry says she has a neighbor whose son has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. He can’t use regular swings and he’s nonverbal. An accessible swing would make a world of difference, she says. “Just having him near to the kids playing opens up a world to him; he wants to just be as close as he can to the action.”
Gregory’s kids, ages 3 to 12, are already on the case: She says they went door-to-door on Sunday, getting about 30 donations.
“This playground would be huge, for them to be able to play together.”
For more stories like this, subscribe to Northern Virginia Magazine’s Parks & Rec newsletter.