The Rotary Club of Forest Unites Children Through Play

by | May 2024

HOW DOES a community playground come to life? Not surprisingly, the process can involve dozens of people, months or even years of planning, and a sizeable amount of money. That combination, used to bring a playground from the idea stage to reality, is precisely what the Rotary Club of Forest is doing with the new all-inclusive Rotary Park. 

Laura Tyree is a charter member of the Rotary Club of Forest, founded in 2003. Along with Kenneth Selmer, she serves as co-chair of the club’s playground committee. The origin story of the new playground demonstrates many of the club’s core values: community, problem-solving, and service. Tyree said part of the work that the club is tasked with each year is fundraising and using that funding to support the club and the needs of the local community. 

Tyree noted that a couple of the Rotary Club of Forest’s members traveled to Danville to investigate the Rotary Club of Danville’s participation in the Field of Honor program. The Field of Honor is an annual event held around Sept. 11, during which individuals and corporate donors can purchase American flags to be displayed in memory and honor of veterans, active-duty military, first responders, firefighters, police officers, EMTs, health care workers, and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Tyree pointed out that the Rotary Club of Danville had great success with its Field of Honor program, so the Rotary Club of Forest decided to adopt it. 2024 marks the seventh year for the Forest Field of Honor, next to Automated Conveyor Systems off Graves Mill Road. Tyree explained that while many ideas were suggested for a fundraiser benefactor, building a playground rose to the top of the pile.

The Rotary Club of Forest met with Bedford County Parks and Recreation officials and discussed the playground idea. Tyree said that the plot of land behind the Forest Library on Forest Road came up in conversation. The land was deeded to the county by the Radford-Gooley family, but the deed had a number of stipulations that made the county hesitant to develop it. 

Tyree shared, “The more we talked with the Radford-Gooley family [about the playground], they were very excited and gave us their blessing.”

From the beginning, Tyree emphasized that the club knew the playground had to be different. The club wanted the playground to be designed for children ages 5 to 12 but added that it would have things for children of varying abilities, whether they [the children] were on the [autism] spectrum and needed things that were tactile or needed things that children with mobility issues would enjoy. 

The Rotary Club of Forest sent a survey to its members and posted it in the library for residents to fill out to learn about the community’s specific accessibility needs. When the ideas came back, Tyree said when the ideas came back, the club contacted the Lynchburg-based MaxPlayFit company to begin building the playground.

Phase I of the playground, completed in 2022, features a modular climbing slide with a couple of stations near the ground. Tyree added that there are transition stations for kids with limited mobility who could still pull themselves up from the stations to one of the slides.

A Rotary district grant helped fund the recently completed Phase II, which includes a musical instrument section. The new section includes a large chime, flowers with petals that each play a different note, and a set of drums. The playground also has swings, including a larger one for a group and a “mommy and me” swing for a parent or older sibling to swing with another family member. Other features of the playground include a lunar rover with gadgets and dials that children can stand or sit in. A four-person see-saw was also just added.

In partnership with the Forest Library, Tyree said the club will install “readers” this summer. Readers are stand-alone signs on posts with a page or two of a book. The 16 readers will allow children to walk or be wheeled around the playground to read a story. The library can change the story as desired. Future additions may include more shaded seating, sidewalks for increased accessibility between playground elements, and game or activity stations.

Tyree concluded by laying out the driving force behind the Forest Playground: “We want them all to be able to play together — that no child feels separated or secluded.” GN

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