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Playground Hunt: A Quest For the Perfect Playground

Volunteers are trying to improve the aging Rounds Playground in Stoneham.

We drive by them all the time. We register them in our mind for a moment or two, but then quickly allow them to fade from our memory. It’s not until the weather starts to improve, until the warmth of spring slowly melts away the burden of winter’s ice that parents everywhere start to wonder where they can take their kids for some good old-fashioned fun and exercise.

There are many playgrounds that dot our urban landscape and we are all too familiar with the collection of slides, jungle gyms and swings that stand ever ready like sentinels at the schoolyard down the street. However, as the hum of lawn mowers and the musical incantations of the ice cream truck fill the air, we have visions of taking our children to perhaps more picturesque locations.

We see to it that our children get their fill of playground activity, but we hope it might be along the backdrop of a rolling hill of green grass, or against the reflective blue of a vibrant pond.

Let’s face it: When children are caught up in the euphoric release that comes from running about and laughing their little hearts out as they often do at playgrounds, they seldom take the opportunity to pause and reflect on the scenic surroundings and how they might enhance their experience. Kids don’t think that way which, of course, is just as well. Nonetheless, the fact does nothing to diminish the intent of the parent which is always to do their best to make the most out of any event.

Yet, when we finally try to recall from memory where we may have seen that perfectly situated playground with that bright red, curly slide with the giant oak tree softening the grass with its abundant shade, parents draw a complete blank.

Well, no more. When parents try to mix things up by finding a different spot to bring their children to play they needn't look any further than the Playground Hunt website. Run by Angelika Paul, of Stoneham, the website is a resource of annotated playgrounds around Massachusetts.

“We would take our two children to different playgrounds,” Paul said. "I’m part of a mother's group and some of the other mothers would ask us where these playgrounds were, and suddenly we're working on this website. It started simply as a map detailing the different playground locations and then turned into a blog.”

As Playground Hunt caught on other parents started to submit their own locations right onto the website with as much information on the playground as possible. Paul and her husband check the location of each submission manually for accuracy before the playground gets posted to the site. In this way Playground Hunt continues to increase its benefit of helping parents find new places to take their children.

Playground Hunt has now further evolved into an organizing effort to rebuild local playgrounds. Paul’s first initiative is to make Rounds Playground, located at the corner of Broadway and MacArthur Road, in Stoneham a place fit for children to play. How did a playground mapping and blog site morph into a venue of community service?

“On a walk one day,” Paul said, “I took my children to Rounds Playground as it is in our neighborhood. But it was in such disrepair that I didn’t allow my children to play. The slide had a great tear in it making it quite unsuitable. ‘Can’t you fix it, mommy?’ my son asked. I replied, 'Yes, I guess I can.'”

Paul, through Playground Hunt, is trying to rally the Stoneham community to do just that along with the managerial tools and guidelines provided by Kaboom, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing communities together to build playgrounds in underprivileged, inner city locations.

According to Paul and the Playground Hunt website, the project is structured so that the entire rebuilding takes place in one single “Build-Day” as a community effort, with volunteers working in various predetermined teams. That day is currently slated for July 2. Coordinating what Playground Hunt is estimating as an effort comprised of 150 local volunteers can be nothing short of daunting.

“It’s been slow going,” Paul said. “Trying to get people to work together and become enthusiastic about a single project such as this can be challenging. But any important cause is worth the effort.

"It’s more than rebuilding a playground. It starts with a playground, but we hope to build and strengthen the whole community.”

For more information on how to volunteer, or to find that perfect spot for you and your children, visit the Playground Hunt website.

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