After two years of wishing and hoping and designing and a week of hammering, drilling and building, it's finally time to be playing.
The Soldotna Community Playground at Soldotna Creek Park will be officially unveiled tonight at 5 p.m. with a ribbon cutting and a family picnic.
And Juston Beyer, 10, couldn't be more excited, especially about some of the playground's custom-built features.
The Soldotna Community Playground's design came from local students who imagined what their dream playground would be.
"Basically what we have is what the kids wanted," said Amy Hogue, Soldotna Community Playground's volunteer coordinator. "They wanted to climb on a snowflake so the climbing wall is painted like a snowflake."
That's just one feature of the 10,000 square foot park with an Alaskan and Central Peninsula flavor.
Similar to the playgrounds in Girdwood and Seward, Soldotna's has its own tributes to the last frontier.
There's an eagle's nest tree fort, a beluga tail, an oil rig faade, as well as a marina play area with a fishing boat. There's a section with a mountain to illustrate watershed and a whole area that reflects the homestead history of this area with old-timey building fronts of Soldotna's first businesses for toddlers to play in.
So what's Beyer's favorite part of the playground?
"I think it's going to be that really high tower," he said, with a shy smile.
Beyer spent hours diligently staining fence pickets for the playground, along with many other volunteers, some 100 a day, who hand cut and placed more than 73,000 pounds of lumber for the project.
"It's fun to see everybody come together," Hogue said. "It's rallied the community."
To prepare for last week's build week the Soldotna Community Playground crew asked for citizens to lend their tools for the cause.
"There were little kids checking in kid's hammers," Hogue said. Those play tools might get broken but she told them, but the children didn't care. They said they just wanted the playground to get built.
One one busy day last week the construction site was a frenzy of saw dust and activity. Children helped hold boards steady while adults drilled holes. Volunteers carried slides through the area. Others painted murals, routed pickets and cut materials. The parking lot was full of rigs. And there was free food and day care provided for all volunteers.
The whole process has been the essence of community cooperation, said Dana McDonald, Soldotna Community Playground's general coordinator.
There's been corporate sponsors, like Central Peninsula Hospital, and many local business donating money, services, and time to the effort. The City of Soldotna donated the land, where an older playground used to stand, to the organization.
Kelly Keating, a playground volunteer and owner/general manager of Blazy Construction, is dreaming about what the playground could mean for the future of the city.
"I don't think it'll be too long at all until they have a skywalk across the highway," he said.
For Keating, the playground is more than just a recreational area - it's a local gathering place.
"This town doesn't have a community center," Keating said. "This brings kids together. This brings people together."
Parent and resident painting volunteer Terra Hansen feels the same way.
With the new playground parents will "be able to meet, have fun and watch kids in a safe environment," she said.
After living in Anchorage, she said, the community support of the playground is refreshing.
"It's eye opening to see what it's like to live in a small town," she said.
Soldotna Community Playground's build week may be coming to a close today but the organization is still seeking donations some $25,000 remaining in the at least $225,000 project.
"We haven't met our fundraising goal yet but we decided we needed to build it so kids can play," Hogue said.
And they will play in something the whole community is proud of.
"I've been telling my friends I helped build the park," Beyer said.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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